Matt Hancock warns Brits to enjoy beaches ‘safely’ or risk undoing country’s ‘hard work’ on coronavirus
Bournemouth beach saw thousands of visitors on Thursday. (PA)
Matt Hancock has threatened to close Britain’s beaches unless the public “respects the rules” as coasts were flocked with sun-seekers despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The Health Secretary said while he was "reluctant" to order a shutdown, he was joined by the country’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty in calling on Brits to exercise caution amid a UK heatwave.
Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council on Thursday declared a major incident and ordered an emergency response as thousands of people turned up to Bournemouth beach.
Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood told constituents to “stay away” from the “full” beach, and warned of “gridlocked” roads as he said he had asked ministers to give local police extra support to enforce dispersal orders if needed.
The MP told the BBC that the end of the Government’s daily coronavirus press briefings had made it harder to urge the country to steer clear of beaches.
Mr Ellwood said: “I'm sorry to see the departure of the Number 10 briefings because they would have been perfect for today, for a key figure in No 10 to clarify what is actually happening in Bournemouth and to clarify that message nationally - to say 'please for the moment stay away from all our seafronts'.”
Instead, a pair of tweets were issued by the Health Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer, calling on the public to show restraint.
Mr Hancock said: “We all want to be outside and enjoying the glorious sunshine but if you are heading out please do it safely and stick to social distancing rules.
“We are making real progress in tackling this virus and we don’t want to undo everyone’s hard work. Please stay alert and save lives.”
Meanwhile Professor Whitty warned: “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.”
And Mr Hancock told Talk Radio that the Government would not rule out ordering the closure of beaches.
"We do have that power," he said. "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.
"But the key is to do it with respect for the rules – stay with your household, stay a good distance from other households.
"But we do have those powers and if we see a spike in the number of cases then we will take action."
The call came as Mr Hancock announced the launch of six new coronavirus “walkthrough” testing sites in England for people without cars, as the Government continues to stress the need for public vigilance on Covid-19 after announcing the easing of a raft of lockdown measures.
The Department of Health said the new sites, which will bolster existing “drivethrough” testing capacity would be able to test “hundreds” of people every day and would be “easily accessible by foot or on bike”.
Mr Hancock said: “It has never been easier to get a free coronavirus test, and our new walk-in centres are yet another way to get one.
“If you have symptoms, however mild, please get tested now to help stop the spread of the virus and protect the people around you.”