June 25, 2020 / 3:20 PM / 8 days ago

UK beach town raises alarm as huge crowds ignore COVID advice and flock to the coast

FILE PHOTO: A message reading 'Save Lives' is seen on Bournemouth Pier as people enjoy the hot weather on the beach, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bournemouth, Britain, June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Authorities in Bournemouth, a popular beach town in southern England, declared a “major incident” on Thursday over what they called the irresponsible behaviour of crowds who had ignored public health guidance on coronavirus and badly overstretched local services.

The declaration came after visitors arrived in very large numbers in a spell of hot weather, resulting in gridlock on the roads, illegal overnight camping, excessive waste, anti-social behaviour and alcohol-fuelled fights.

“We are absolutely appalled at the scenes witnessed on our beaches, particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks, in the last 24-48 hours,” said Council Leader Vikki Slade in a statement.

“The irresponsible behaviour and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe.”

Social distancing measures have been in place in Britain since March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, although the rules are due to be significantly relaxed from July 4.

With pubs still closed, many people have been heading to parks and beaches to meet friends and drink alcohol, in some cases ignoring advice to keep 2 metres apart.

In Bournemouth, roads were obstructed by illegal parking, crews were abused as they attempted to empty overflowing bins and 33 tonnes of waste had to be removed from the stretch of coastline in and around the town on Thursday morning.

The emergency response will involve extra police patrols, security to protect rubbish collectors, additional parking enforcement, evictions of unauthorised campers and signage on approach roads warning people not to come.

“We strongly advise members of the public to think twice before heading to the area,” said Sam de Reya of the local police force. “Clearly we are still in a public health crisis and such a significant volume of people heading to one area places a further strain on emergency service resources.”

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

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