Health Secretary warns beaches could be shut after 'major incident' in Bournemouth

26 June 2020, 09:23 | Updated: 26 June 2020, 09:24

Thousands of people visited Bournemouth beach yesterday
Thousands of people visited Bournemouth beach yesterday. Picture: PA

Matt Hancock has warned that beaches could end up being closed down after thousands of people descended on Bournemouth beach yesterday sparking a 'major incident'.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has issued a stark warning that coronavirus cases will rise again if people do not follow social distancing guidance.

The Government has pledged to "take action" should coronavirus social distancing measures be ignored after thousands of people flocked to beaches on the hottest day of the year.

It comes after a "major incident" was declared in Bournemouth and sunseekers flocked to the sea across the country with reports of fights breaking out.

Local MP Tobias Ellwood, speaking from Bournemouth beach, said: "This place was deluged and social distancing went out the window and that's why a major incident was declared, because the local authority and indeed the police couldn't cope."

He said: "The beach should have been closed down, or at least shut down to prevent further people from entering it.

"We need to learn from this and recognise that if we're going to be serious about tackling this pandemic then we need to be swifter in being able to provide support to local authorities who are unable to cope."

Police chiefs, meanwhile, warned of an impending "summer of discontent" and disorder after pubs finally reopen on July 4.

England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty also warned that if people do not obey social-distancing rules then cases will rise.

Prof Whitty 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."

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government had the power to close public areas such as beaches if people flout safety restrictions.

Asked if he would close beached in extreme cases, Mr Hancock said: "Well, we do have that power.

"I am reluctant to use it because people have had a pretty tough lockdown. Everybody should be able to enjoy the sunshine.

"We do have those powers - and if we see a spike in the number of cases, then we will take action."

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said extra police patrols had to be brought in following the "irresponsible" behaviour of crowds who gridlocked roads, dumped rubbish, abused refuse collectors and parked illegally.

Nearly 40 tons of rubbish were collected, while the council said it had issued a record 558 parking fines as motorists left vehicles on pavements in defiance of double yellow lines, with official car parks overflowing.

Temperatures soared to 33.4C (92.12F) at Heathrow Airport in west London on Thursday, making it the hottest day of the year so far.

A yellow weather warning for thunderstorms is in place for the whole of the UK for Friday, with heavy rain, lightning and hail expected to bring a risk of flooding.

The chair of the British Medical Association's public health medicine committee Dr Peter English called on tourism providers and local authorities to consider how they can help mitigate the risk of the virus spreading and urged holidaymakers to act with "extreme caution".

He said: "Lockdown is being eased and many aspects of life are returning to some form of normality, however, it is vitally important to recognise that this deadly virus has not gone away."

Dr Lucy-Jane Davis, chair of the BMA south-west regional council, stressed that tourism hotspots in the region have limited NHS resources compared with the number of visitors anticipated.

She said it is "vital" that politicians, tourism operators and NHS leaders consider all the risks before July 4, and that an effective contact-tracing system is in place before then.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce on Friday the Government's plans for air bridges, which will allow Britons to go on holiday to certain destinations without needing to quarantine for 14 days on their return, the Telegraph reported.

The first of these air bridges will allow holidaymakers to travel to "low-risk" European destinations, including France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Germany, from July 4.

Henry Smith, Conservative chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group, said the plan was a "welcome first step" but urged the Prime Minister to widen the bridges to the whole of the EU.

He told the Telegraph: "EU countries have had a similar, if not better, coronavirus experience than us. I think that is the most straightforward and eloquent way to approach it."

Walk-in centres for Covid-19 testing are also being set up to make it easier for people without cars to get tested for the virus.

Six centres are being trialled in Newcastle, Rochdale, Leeds, Brent, Newham and Slough, with the latter described as a hybrid drive and walk through.

The exact location of the centres has not been confirmed by officials but one is understood to be on a basketball court, and there have been reports they will spring up in empty shops and car parks.

A source at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said officials were working on "walk through testing sites in England for people without cars".

The source said that previously the push was to have testing sites out of the way so there were not "huge" numbers of potentially infected people travelling into the centre of towns.

But they added that now incidence is lower, they can look at ways to safely provide testing "in the heart of communities", in a way that is more easy and accessible to people.

The latest NHS Test and Trace figures show that 24% of people (5,062) who tested positive for Covid-19 between May 28 to June 17 and who had been transferred to the tracing system were not reached.

This number includes people who the service was unable to reach because there had been no response to text, email and call reminders. It also includes people who were reached but declined to give details of close contacts.

A total of 20,968 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the contact tracing system during the first three weeks of its operation, according to figures from the DHSC.

Of this total, 15,225 people (73%) were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts.

During the first three weeks of Test and Trace, 113,925 people who had been identified as recent close contacts of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reached through the tracing system.

This was 89% out of a total of 128,566 identified contacts.

The remaining 14,641 (11%) were identified as close contacts but were not reached.

The weekly figures on Test and Trace, which are subject to revision, currently show that in the seven days to June 17 a total of 82% of close contacts of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reached and advised to self-isolate.

This compares with 91% of close contacts in both weeks one and two.

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