Some of Sydney’s most popular beaches may be forced to close this summer, turning away thousands of swimmers hoping to beat the heat, all in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Coastal councils are currently working on a plan to safely manage the hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors who descend on Bondi, Coogee and Manly beaches every summer.
With spring kicking off abnormally warm, Sydney beaches especially have already seen swimmers flock to the shores to catch some sun, which could impact how a beach will stay open if crowds get too big.
To prepare for the growing crowds heading into summer, Waverley Council Mayor Paula Masselos said she will be working on COVID health and safety plans for beaches including Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte.
“The plan involves working with key stakeholders and agencies, and draws on some of the measures and resourcing approaches we have used over the last five months,” Ms Masselos told 7News.
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At the start of Australia’s measures back in March to control coronavirus, Sydney police were forced to temporarily close Bondi Beach after crowds exceeded Australia’s outdoor gathering limit.
At the time, NSW had banned outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people in a bid to tackle the spread.
But with a warm start to autumn, large crowds of people continued to flock to beaches across Sydney, flouting advice to stay inside.
The photos of a busy Bondi Beach went viral, with Health Minister Greg Hunt saying the beachgoers’ behaviour was “unacceptable” and calling on local councils to step in to ensure people were complying with the social distancing advice.
Randwick Mayor Danny Said hopes to create a policy all Sydney councils can follow, which will avoid crowds flocking to beaches while still keeping them open.
“People need to prepare themselves that this will not be a normal summer,” Mr Said said.
Ms Masselos added that this summer will see Australia in the middle of a pandemic, so life will be “different”.
“Certainly I hope that we don’t have to close the beaches,” she told the ABC.
“But if people don’t do the right thing, and the beach has become too crowded then we’ll have to look at how we manage those numbers because I don’t want a repeat of what happened back in March.”
It is understood some of the strategies to be considered include a “swim and go” visit, beachgoers only using restricted entry and exit points, and even car parks being closed.
Mayor of Sutherland Shire Council Carmelo Pesce told the ABC that limiting parking was one way he had restricted crowds in March at her beaches.
“When they showed up to Cronulla there was limited parking, so they had to move on. So I think that would be a measure that we would probably go down first before we close the beach,” Mr Pesce said.
“If we can manage and educate people and make sure that they move on and with the help of NSW Police, I think we would be able to manage it. But if we have to close, then we will.”
Currently in NSW, people can gather in groups of up to 20 providing they can adhere to the 4sq m rule
Individuals face maximum penalties of $11,000, imprisonment or on-the-spot fines of $1000 for breaches.