Published:  05:14 AM, 22 March 2020

Australia puts beaches under lockdown

Australia puts beaches under lockdown Bondi Beach was closed after sunbathers flouted a ban on non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people. -AFP

Sunbathers, surfers and tourists were banned from Bondi Beach on Saturday in efforts to contain the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 1,000 people in Australia.

Lifeguards emptied the sands of day trippers and police taped off entrances to the beach in Sydney, before closing several more of the city's popular swimming spots.

The temporary measure comes after photos were shared online showing mostly young beachgoers packed together drawing howls of protest in the media and from officials who have forbidden non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people.

Sunbathers, surfers and tourists were banned from Bondi Beach on Saturday in efforts to contain the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 1,000 people in Australia.

Lifeguards emptied the sands of day trippers and police taped off entrances to the beach in Sydney, before closing several more of the city's popular swimming spots.

The temporary measure comes after photos were shared online showing mostly young beachgoers packed together -- drawing howls of protest in the media and from officials who have forbidden non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people.

"This is not something we are doing because we are the 'fun police'... this is about saving lives," New South Wales state Police Minister David Elliott told reporters.

Meanwhile a whole region the vast Northern Territory said it would close its borders next week, forcing arrivals from elsewhere in Australia to quarantine for two weeks.

The measures announced by the territory's chief minister, which begin on Tuesday, were aimed at addressing fears over the safety of remote indigenous communities who may be more vulnerable to an outbreak.

Australia's confirmed cases climbed to 1,068 on Saturday. Among them are 10 US tourists quarantined in South Australia. The nation has taken a series of drastic steps to contain the spread of the contagion, including closing its borders to foreigners and non-residents.

At Bondi, people looked on at the desolate sands from the promenade after being told to leave the beach. "I think it's about time we take our responsibility even though it's taking away something we value so much," Bondi local Leila Alem told AFP.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far stopped short of ordering people to stay home or the shutdown of non-essential businesses, as introduced in some parts of the world.

Authorities closed Sydney's Bondi Beach Saturday after huge crowds flocked to the popular sunbathing spot despite a government ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The temporary measure comes after photos of mostly young beachgoers packed on the famous sands were widely shared online, drawing howls of protest in the media and from officials.

"What we saw this morning here on Bondi Beach was the most irresponsible behavior of individuals that we've seen so far," New South Wales state Police Minister David Elliott said.

"This is not something we are doing because we are the 'fun police'," he told a beachside news conference. The ban could be extended to other beaches if social distancing rules are not followed, he warned.

Non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people have been barred as officials seek to stem the spread of the virus. Australia has nearly 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19."This is a disease that young people can get they can go into hospital, they can die from it," Kristina Keneally, a NSW senator who lives in Sydney, warned.

Australia has taken a series of drastic steps to contain the spread of the contagion, including closing its borders to foreigners and non-residents. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far stopped short of ordering people to stay home or the shutdown of non-essential businesses, as introduced in some parts of the world.


---AFP, Sydney


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