Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested that beaches could be closed by the government if there is a spike in the number of Coronavirus cases.
The suggestion came after scenes on Thursday of packed out beaches on the hottest day of the year so far for the UK, with temperatures reaching as high a 33C in some parts. While beaches in some parts of the UK remained quiet, a major incident was declared in Bournemouth as thousands headed to the coast. In Dorset, there were reports of illegal parking, heavy traffic, overnight camping and public disorder.
Other beaches also saw large crowds and in Wales, there was extensive littering by people at Ogmore-by-Sea.
The government says it would have the powers to close beaches, however, despite the suggestion by Mr Hancock, it is believed by many that the closure of beaches is unlikely.
Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Environment Secretary George Eustice said that beaches would only be closed by the government ‘reluctantly’. Mr Eustice said that people have “generally” observed current social distancing rules.
Speaking on TalkRadio, Matt Hancock said;
“We do have that power. I am reluctant to use it because people have had a pretty tough lockdown and I want everybody to be able to enjoy the sunshine.
“But the key is to do it with respect for the rules – stay with your household, stay a good distance from other households.
“But we do have those powers and if we see a spike in the number of cases then we will take action.”
From 4 July, pubs, restaurants and hotels can reopen in England. With international travel still looking to be somewhat difficult during the summer, it is thought that many Britons will take ‘staycations’ and visit the coast. If the UK continues to experience hot weather over the coming weeks and months, it seems likely that more and more people will head to Britain’s beaches. The government will be reluctant to close beaches, both due to the lockdown measures already experienced, and because of the potential impacts to the economy from closing beaches.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said on Friday that he did not want to close beaches but it would be considered as an option if large crowds on beaches became a regular occurence.
Despite lockdown measures being eased, large gatherings are still not permitted and are not expected to be allowed anytime in the near future. In England, only gatherings of a maximum of six people outside are currently allowed. It is believed that COVID-19 is less likely to be spread outside and in hot weather than indoors, however, spreading the virus may still be possible so people are being advised to continue to social distance from others.