Bondi Beach this morning. Photo: The Guardian
Sydney Closes All Its Beaches And Defiers Will Cop A Fine
Draconian? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.
On Friday afternoon an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 individuals flocked to Sydney's Bondi Beach for an afternoon dip. Perhaps each of these individuals thought the beach would be relatively quiet with stricter social distancing laws imposed and outdoor gathering of 500-more being banned. Alternatively, they just weren't that concerned by the biggest biological threat to the species' in 100 years.
Following this day of outright ignorance, all of Sydney's Eastern beaches have closed, with other Sydney beaches copping evacuations and facing closures as measures become increasingly draconian. Despite these bans a number of surfers, swimmers, and beach walkers have jumped fences and defied rangers to access to Bondi and other beaches. Ben Doherty reported for The Guardian this morning witnessing multiple arguments between beachgoers and rangers at Bondi, with the former often defying orders to enter the water anyway. As lifeguards tried to stop surfers from running down the sand into the water, surfers jumped off the rocks.
After consistent defiance lifeguards warned those in the water—both swimmers and surfers—that if they continued they may receive a fine from the police boat. At this stage we're unsure whether any fines have been dished out for surfing (it is unlikely), but the NSW government has given police the authority to do so for those not complying. The fine is reportedly up to $11,000AUD and up to six months imprisonment for failing to comply with the public health order.
Maroubra beach this afternoon was a similar affair. With around 200+ people scattered in the water and across the sand—despite all entrances being cordoned off—lifeguards were forced to make yet another announcement, after hearing the shark/virus alarm of course.
"The beach is closed due to Covid-19. We ask that you do not swim or hang around at the beach or on the sand." A council lifeguard projected over the speakers. "We have been advised by police that members of the public are not allowed to spend time on the sand or in the water. We ask for your co-operation during this difficult time. If we could just get everybody to pack up their stuff and leave the beach it would be much appreciated.
"Once again lifeguards have been advised by police not allow anyone to spend anytime on the sand."
Despite this, not a single stubborn surfer exited the water, with only a handful of sunbathers packing up and exiting with an equal handful ducking under the barriers to replace them.
Back at Bondi police on horseback and crowd control officers are rolling in and the beach is almost entirely empty with visitors and locals seemingly getting the hint. Tamarama, Bronte, and other Eastern Beaches spots are also either roped or gated off.
I gave Asher Wales, who lives at Bondi, a buzz about the feel down there. "Initially lifeguards were seemingly okay with people surfing, but it soon became clear you couldn't surf or go in the water at all.
"In theory you could set a limit of 100 people or so in the water, and if people were sensible we could probably self-regulate this. The behaviour of Australians in the last week though has shown we're not capable of doing that." Asher continued. "In one mind I think banning surfing is tough, but if you don't then where do you draw the line? So overall it's probably the safest thing to do."
Over on the northern beaches no beaches have been formally closed, but a maximum of 500 people is in place for every beach and it is rumoured that many beaches including Manly, Dee Why, and Freshwater will be closed as of tomorrow. Freshwater also reportedly evacuated the beach today after more than 500 people were on it. This 500 person maximum will be in place for every beach throughout the country as of today for the foreseeable future.
As of Sunday afternoon afternoon Australia has recorded 1,250 cases of Covid-19, with around 250 of those being confirmed today. The NSW government also announced that closure of all non-essential services will be rolled out over the next 48 hours as their number of cases passes 500. The Victorian government soon followed with a similar announcement regarding non-essential services.
While closing beaches and banning surfing may seem like overkill with Australia at 1,250 cases compared to 300,000 globally, we are at the very beginning of this exponential curve. With a lax initial response Italy has suffered the serious consequences of inaction and the USA seems to be on a similar trajectory. While our numbers overall are significantly smaller, over 90% of Australia's cases have been confirmed in the past seven days and our overall numbers will more than double in the next week. Epidemiologists have warned that if strict measures are not imposed (with the public obviously obeying) we may see ourself in a situation comparable to the hardest hit European countries, rather than the current exemplars such as South Korea and Singapore.
Yes not surfing might suck. Yes you can call these measures draconian. But if we want to 'flatten the curve' and save our medical system from a complete meltdown, we best listen to the expert's advice. You mightn't die, but someone you infect might, so unless travel is necessary, stay the fuck home.