Australian authorities closed Bondi beach and removed hundreds of people from other popular Sydney beaches on Saturday, citing the “irresponsible behaviour” of large crowds that had gathered in clear defiance of public health warnings.
Images of a packed Bondi on Friday – when temperatures in parts of Sydney exceeded 35C – were criticised internationally as governments in Australia announced stricter regulations to encourage social distancing and restrict the spread of the coronavirus.
An effective ban on outdoor public gatherings of more than 500 people has been in place for more than a week.
As crowds built up again on Saturday, Waverley council closed Bondi and two nearby beaches, Bronte and Tamarama. On Saturday afternoon, police were called to remove a large number of people who had refused to leave Tamarama at the direction of local lifeguards.
The New South Wales police and emergency services minister, David Elliott, said lifeguards would be directed to close any beach in the state where a head count indicated more than 500 people were present. Police would then enforce the closure, including removing people if necessary.
“What we saw this morning at Bondi Beach was the most irresponsible behaviour of individuals that we’ve seen so far,” Elliott told reporters at Bondi on Saturday.
“We cannot have an area where more than 500 people are gathered.”
“This is not something we are doing because we are the fun police. This is about saving lives.
“If the community does not comply with the regulations and the health warnings then this is going to become the new norm. We will be closing down the type of iconic activities that unfortunately we’ve come ... to love and adore about our lifestyle.
“Of course with the social distancing regulations we are relying on the laws of common sense. The photos we saw this morning were a clear breach of faith when it comes to the implementation of these laws, and quite frankly they were a breach of public safety.
It is understood Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama will not be permanently closed, however authorities will closely monitor the numbers of beachgoers each day. Crowds at Bondi, a pilgrimage destination for tourists and backpackers, would rarely fall below 500 people on a given day.
The mayor of Waverley council, Paula Masselos, asked people heading to beaches to comply with public health advice about social distancing.
“The public must at all times keep a minimum safe distance from each other in public places and if you don’t need to be out in public, please consider staying at home,” she said.
“I am frustrated that people continue to ignore health advice about social distancing as observed yesterday at Bondi beach.”
Bondi lifesaver Brennan Bastyovanszky told the ABC that Friday had been a “perfect storm” and that warm weather had brought a large crowd to the beach
“I was amazed. You had as many people down here as you would on New Year’s Day,” he said.
“It was one of the busiest days I’ve ever seen and it was cause for concern, but it’s outdoors — I could see that people were generally keeping their distance, so even though the beach was incredibly packed, you could see that people were keeping a metre and a half, two metres away from one another.”
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, on Saturday called the behaviour of beachgoers “unacceptable” as the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases in Australia reached 1,000.
“To those small few who are doing the wrong thing, think of others, and to those who have local responsibilities, discharge those responsibilities,” Hunt said.
Advice from Australian authorities is to limit outdoor gatherings to fewer than 500 people, and indoor gatherings to fewer than 100 people. Venues hosting smaller gatherings, including restaurants, cafes and hotels, are required to provide four 4 sq metres per patron.
People are advised to maintain a 1.5 metre distance from others, in an attempt to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.