The British government has pleaded with the public to continue observing social distancing guidelines after thousands packed England’s beaches on Thursday and thousands more celebrated Liverpool’s first championship in 30 years outside the club’s Anfield stadium.
Officials in southern England declared a “major incident” Thursday after crowds flocked to beaches in Bournemouth and Sandbanks, Dorset on the hottest day of 2020 so far.
The area was overrun with cars and sunbathers, leading to gridlock and the local council handed out 558 parking enforcement fines — a daily record.
Garbage crews also suffered abuse and intimidation as they tried to remove mountains of waste from the seafront and there were a number of incidents involving excessive alcohol and fighting.
“We want people to enjoy outside spaces and we want them to enjoy leisure facilities such as the beach but we also don’t want to see case numbers go up again, so we are asking people to obey social distancing guidelines,” a Downing Street spokesperson said Friday.
The UK government will consider closing the beaches if there is a “spike in infections,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned in an interview with British Talk Radio on Thursday evening.
“If we see a spike in the number of cases then we will take action,” the cabinet minister said.
Hancock asked the public to “keep following the social distancing [advice],” which remains in place “for a reason.”
“The virus doesn’t respect the fact that it’s a hot summer’s day, the virus spreads from social contact,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve still got social distancing in place” he added.
Hancock urged English people not to throw “away all that good work” but added he was reluctant to close beaches as “people have had a pretty tough lockdown.”
Britain is in the process of easing its lockdown restrictions, which have been in place since March.
Groups of up to six people can now meet outside in England. But on Friday Downing Street warned that if coronavirus case numbers increased, the government would put local lockdowns in place.
Clashes break out at street parties
Several unlicensed street parties have also posed challenges for police officers.
On Thursday evening objects were thrown at officers at the scene of a block party in Notting Hill, west London, the city’s Metropolitan Police force said. The crowd was dispersed at about 2 a.m. local time.
There was another “unlicensed music event” at Streatham Common in South London on Thursday, which Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick described as “quite a large gathering.”
On Wednesday, 22 officers were injured as they tried to clear an illegal street party in Brixton, south London.
Dick said nearly 140 officers had been injured in the last two weeks, as they responded to disturbances at street parties and during flare-ups of violence at far-right rallies and the Black Lives Matter protests in London.
“It’s hot — some people have drunk far too much, some people are just angry and aggressive, some people are plain violent. We will be prepared this weekend, we have officers all over London working hard to keep the peace and to protect our public from violence and disorder,” Dick said on Friday.
“These events are unlawful, there shouldn’t be happening,” Dick said of the parties. “We have a duty to close them down and disperse them. The local communities hate them, incredibly antisocial behavior, very noisy, during a pandemic, sometimes violence, and for our officers who are simply doing their duty, to be attacked in that manner is utterly unacceptable.”
The police commissioner said that she was on the streets of London on Thursday night, when the police got a call saying there was a man with a machete at one of the illegal gatherings.
“I think you can see immediately that a beach is a completely different scenario from a street in London, where you have hundreds of residents ringing up, terrified by what they are seeing and saying please come police and break this up now because we know there’s going to be violence,” Dick said.
England’s beaches and unlicensed parties weren’t the only reason for Thursday’s crowds.
Anfield crowds cause concern
And although Assistant Chief Constable Rob Carden thanked the “overwhelming majority of fans” for recognizing that “now is not the time to gather together to celebrate,” he urged fans to avoid congregating and celebrate in their “social bubble.”
“In the days ahead, we urge supporters to do the right thing and celebrate safely with members of your household and in your social bubble. By doing this you keep yourself, your family, friends and neighbours safe.
“As we all know, Merseyside has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and we must all do what we can to prevent further cases and deaths in our communities.”
“We understand people will feel jubilant that Liverpool has secured the league title for the first time in 30 years, and the time will come when fans can return to Anfield to applaud the team and to celebrate their achievement.”