International newspapers have described scenes of Brits flocking to beaches as “unbelievable” and “shocking”, as thousands descended on seaside resorts despite the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday and Thursday, sun-worshippers defied social distancing guidelines and packed out seaside hot spots such as Brighton and Bournemouth.
It came as the UK experienced its hottest day of the year on Thursday, with the temperature reaching 33.3C at London’s Heathrow Airport.
The scenes followed Boris Johnson’s announcement this week confirming pubs, restaurants, hotels, cinemas and hairdressers can reopen from 4 July providing they are “COVID-secure”. He also announced a cut in social distancing from two metres to “one metre plus”.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said it was left with no choice but to declare a major incident after services were “completely overstretched” as huge numbers of visitors defied advice to stay away during the hot weather in recent days.
Condemning the “irresponsible” behaviour of crowds who gridlocked roads, dumped rubbish, abused refuse collectors and parked illegally, the council said extra police patrols have been brought in.
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty urged people to follow social distancing rules in the hot weather or risk causing a spike in coronavirus.
He wrote on Twitter: “Covid-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation.
“If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again.
“Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all.”
The world watches
The pictures of Brits cramming themselves on to beaches have been picked up by foreign media outlets around the world.
German publication Stern wrote: “One can hardly believe that these pictures were taken during the corona pandemic. But sadly this is the case.
“Prime minister Boris Johnson had only just eased the lockdown rules on June 23 – from two metres to more than a metre – when the heat in south east Great Britain was really savoured.”
In a piece titled “Unbelievable images of crowded beaches at Bournemouth”, News.com.au commented: “We thought the crowds at Bondi Beach were bad but UK beachgoers have taken things to the next level.”
The New Zealand Herald wrote: “With Wednesday being the hottest day of the year so far in England, people packed beaches to laze about in the sun, ignoring the country's strict social distancing measures.”
French site News 24 reported on the scenes on the south coast under the headline: “Ne jetez pas tout” - “Don’t throw everything away”.
Clarin, the largest tabloid in Argentina, expressed similar sentiments of despair under the headline: “Descontrol en Gran Bretaña: miles de personas invadieron las playas con sombrillas, reposeras y cervezas en medio de una ola de calor”, which roughly translates as: “Lack of control in Britain: thousands of people invaded the beaches with umbrellas, lounge chairs and beers in the middle of a heat wave”.
In the US, the New York Times ran a piece headlined: “UK Beach Town Raises Alarm as Huge Crowds Ignore COVID Advice and Flock to the Coast.”
Meanwhile, in an article headlined “What distancing?”, Canadian website CTV said: “Parts of the UK are preparing for a further easing of lockdown restrictions on July 4, but there have been other signs that members of the public are increasingly flouting the rules.”
The Met Office has issued a hot weather warning as temperatures soar across the UK.
It raised the level to 3 on Wednesday as health authorities encouraged the most vulnerable – many of whom have been shielding during the COVID-19 lockdown – to protect themselves amid the “exceptionally hot weather forecast this week”.
The UK has recorded more than 54,000 virus fatalities – the third highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.
Public Health England (PHE) said older people, those with underlying health conditions, and very young children were all more at risk from the higher temperatures.
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