People enjoy the warm weather on the beach, amid the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bournemouth, Britain, on June 25, 2020 in this still image from a social media video. Instagram / @ Arubabournemouth / via REUTERS.
LONDON (Reuters) – Authorities in Bournemouth, a popular seaside town in southern England, on Thursday declared a “major incident” in what they called the irresponsible behavior of crowds that had ignored the public health guidance on coronavirus and very overloaded local services.
The statement came after visitors arrived in large numbers in a period of warm weather, resulting in road stagnation, illegal overnight camps, excessive waste, antisocial behavior, and alcohol-fueled fights.
“We are absolutely horrified by the scenes witnessed on our beaches, particularly in Bournemouth and Sandbanks, in the past 24-48 hours,” Council leader Vikki Slade said in a statement.
“The irresponsible behavior and actions of so many people is simply shocking and our services stretch to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe.”
Social distancing measures have been in place in Britain since March to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, although the rules will be relaxed significantly from July 4.
With the pubs still closed, many people have headed to parks and beaches to meet friends and drink alcohol, in some cases ignoring advice to stay 2 meters away.
In Bournemouth, roads were obstructed by illegal parking lots, crews were abused while trying to empty overflowing containers, and on Thursday morning, 33 tons of debris had to be removed from the stretch of coastline around the city.
The emergency response will include additional police patrols, security to protect garbage collectors, additional surveillance of the parking lot, evictions of unauthorized campers and signage on access roads warning people not to come.
“We strongly recommend that members of the public think twice before heading to the area,” said Sam de Reya of the local police. “Clearly, we are still in a public health crisis and such a significant volume of people heading to an area puts increased pressure on emergency services resources.”
Estelle Shirbon’s Reports; editing by Stephen Addison