‘But protests are OK?’ UK government raises eyebrows with threat to close beaches at height of summer
Hundreds of thousands of Britons flocked to the coast on Thursday, the hottest day of the year so far. The huge crowds prompted authorities in Bournemouth to declare a major incident as the influx of visitors brought gridlocked roads, anti-social behavior and rampant littering.
Bournemouth council condemned the “irresponsible” behavior of the crowds and said it was forced into declaring a major incident as its services were “completely overstretched” by the massive numbers of visitors who ignored advice to stay away during the heatwave.
The situation prompted Health Secretary Matt Hancock to threaten to close England's beaches if the public continued to ignore social distancing guidelines. Hancock told TalkRadio that he wanted people to enjoy the sun but said that Britons “mustn’t throw away” all the work they have done to fight the coronavirus disease.
Hancock reminded listeners that the government has the power to close the beaches and threatened to do so if the situation continues.
“We do have that power. I am reluctant to use it because people have had a pretty tough lockdown and I want everybody to be able to enjoy the sunshine,” Hancock said.
But we do have those powers and if we see a spike in the number of cases then we will take action.
The threat unleashed a flood of reaction in the UK, with many saying that the hordes of people descending on beaches is a product of the government’s mixed messaging. Many noted that, at the start of the lockdown in March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to visit open spaces and “enjoy themselves” amid the pandemic.
Bournmouth Beach and Sandbanks are the direct result of 'yes but no but' guidelines from Boris Johnson. Tobias Ellwood, Tory MP for Bournmouth, says the mass gatherings are 'very dangerous events'. What did he expect? We have a dangerous, reckless Prime Minister.— Mandoline Word-Smith (@Mandoline_Blue) June 25, 2020
Others also noted that closing the beaches during a heatwave would be a drastic step that would be a grave reflection on British society. “A UK govt closing beaches in the summer? What a country Britain has become,” journalist Neil Clark wrote on Twitter.
Many others also asked why beaches were being singled out while mass gatherings such as protests weren’t being clamped down on by authorities.
Wish the Govt had powers to support the police in stopping protests, street parties in Brixton and Notting Hill resulting in violence and serious injury. But no - go and be tough on the peaceful beaches in Bournemouth. Sort you priorities.— PC (@paulcblade) June 26, 2020
so police forces are going mental about football fans celebrating and also people going to the beaches during the hot weather but police do not do anything at all when there is loads protests happening across London and in all towns and cities in the uk every single day— Jake Wright (@JakeWri38029870) June 26, 2020
“Here we go again. Swift action promised on beaches, none whatsoever taken to stop protests and rioting,” Political commenter Suzanne Evans tweeted.
“Considering this is a government I backed and voted for, I really can’t stress strongly enough how utterly pissed off I am with it right now. Utterly wrong-headed on so much,” she added.
The outrage comes following consecutive nights of police officers in London being attacked while attempting to shut down illegal parties.
The UK has the third highest death toll from Covid-19 in the world, behind the United States and Brazil, with over 43,000 people officially succumbing to the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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