Sydney’s beaches will be forced to close again over summer if crowd sizes mean COVID-19 restrictions are flouted, local mayors have warned.

Key points:

  • Local councils warn that public health orders still apply to manage COVID-19 restrictions at beaches
  • People can gather in groups of up to 20 adhering to the four metre square rule
  • Individuals face maximum penalties of $11,000, imprisonment or on-the-spot fines of $1,000 for breaches

Iconic Bondi Beach and other eastern and northern suburbs beaches were closed to swimmers during March and April and only reopened under strict regulations.

The closures came in the aftermath of the Ruby Princess cruise ship crisis as coronavirus numbers soared around Sydney.

Now large numbers of beachgoers are already being drawn back to the surf and sand as the weather warms up and planning is underway to manage the potential risks.

Waverley Mayor Paula Masselos said it would be a different summer under the continuing challenges posed by the pandemic.

Most people were social distancing at Bondi on a recent 29 degree day.(Supplied: Waverley Council)

“Certainly I hope that we don’t have to close the beaches.

“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 in March.”

Some of the strategies used by councils included “swim and go”, using restricted entry and exit points, and in Sydney’s south, beach car parks were closed as a deterrent.

“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,” the Mayor of Sutherland Shire Council (SCC) Carmelo 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,” he said.

A crowded promenade from Cronulla Beach towards North Cronulla in March this year.(AAP: Simon Bullard)
The south end of Manly Beach was closed in March due to high visitor numbers.(Wikimedia Commons: Sheba Also)

Northern Beaches Council is also warning it may close beaches “if crowds become too large and unmanageable”.

Like councils in Sydney’s east and south, it will be relying on a close relationship with NSW Police to enforce the four square metre rule and gatherings of no more than 20 people in public.

Council is still finalising its summer action plan, but rangers and lifeguards will continue to monitor coastal areas, CEO Ray Brownlee said in a statement.

“Council is also increasing its cleansing regime of popular outdoor public places, providing extra restrooms in key locations, and reviewing the need for Council-sponsored outdoor events during summer.”

Local beachgoer Marcie says she’s against restrictions being imposed.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
Travis and Ines Harvey visit the beach as a treat and would go without to comply with restrictions.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

The ABC spoke to some local residents who had mixed reactions to the idea of restrictions being reimposed during the heat of summer.

Marcie, 21, was reading a book while sunbathing on Coogee Beach and was not impressed with the idea.

“No way! It’s so hard when the weather’s nice you just have to get down to the beach — it’s too hot to hang around at home,” she said.

“It would be a shame if the restrictions came back in because I think they’re quite unnecessary.”

Duygu, 32 from Newtown, said social distancing should be reinforced as a prevention measure.

“It would be nice if they really force us to have the social distancing because last weekend, not in Coogee, it was really crowded and we were side by side, super close to each other,” she said.

“It’s a huge risk, it takes only one person to spread it.

Retiree Anthony Debeck, 77, believes as hot weather returns people will not adhere to the rules.

“We swim here every day and I love the beach, I jog up and down every day. But if unfortunately the virus takes off again then we’ll just have to close the beaches,” he said.

Anthony Debeck believes it’s inevitable that beaches will be closed again this summer.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
Duygu and her friend hope beaches don’t have to be closed because “Sydney is a beach city”.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

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