Bondi Beach Crowds Spur Threat of ‘Draconian’ Virus Controls

Australia faces “far more draconian measures” to stop the spread of the coronavirus after thousands of people ignored physical-separation advice and flocked to Sydney’s Bondi Beach, forcing police to close the world-famous sandy strip.

All non-essential travel such as holidays should be canceled, and a National Cabinet meeting of federal and state leaders has been brought forward to Sunday night to discuss the possibility of local lockdowns in virus hotspots, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Canberra.

“What happened at Bondi Beach yesterday was not alright,” Morrison said Sunday. “People cannot be cavalier about these things and must take them extremely seriously because lives and livelihoods are at stake.”

The iconic beach in Sydney’s east drew huge crowds on Friday and Saturday as the city enjoyed unseasonably warm fall weather, and nearby bars and restaurants were packed. With infections in Australia mounting, the scenes triggered exasperation among politicians, who want citizens to keep 1.5 meters apart from each other. Outdoor gatherings have been capped at 500 people.

“We must remember first and foremost this is a health crisis,” Morrison said as he announced a second stimulus package aimed at limiting the economic havoc of the outbreak. “The health battle is the main battle we face. The health battle is the battle all Australians are enlisted in while we fight this crisis.”

Authorities are also scrambling to cope with outbreaks of the Covid-19 virus on cruise ships.

The health department in New South Wales state named three other cruise ships that have had confirmed cases on board, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. That comes after thousands of passengers were allowed to disembark a ship on Thursday in Sydney, even as four people on board tested positive for the virus.

Australia joins countries worldwide struggling to convince communities to heed health warnings, and authorities in Sydney have warned other beaches may be shut if the public continues to flout new guidelines.

Images of families at the beach sharing public showers and toilets reflected a community “in complete denial,” David Elliott, the state minister for police and emergency services, told reporters at Bondi Beach. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt called the situation “unacceptable.”

In the U.K., social-distancing efforts also failed to sufficiently stem infections and on Friday Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs, restaurants and leisure centers to close. U.S. President Donald Trump has urged the younger generation to be more cautious to reduce the risk of infecting more vulnerable elderly.

More Young People Are Falling Seriously Ill from Coronavirus

Behind Australia’s pleas to take the threat seriously lies the fear the country could plunge into a crisis similar to Italy, where coronavirus deaths surpass those even in China.

Total infections in Australia have reached 1,098, the federal health department said Sunday. That’s a jump of 224 from the previous day. Seven people have died.

At tonight’s National Cabinet meeting, Victoria and New South Wales, the nation’s two most-populous states, will push for a halt on all non-essential activities, including the closure of restaurants and pubs, the ABC reported.

Victoria will also push for schools to be shut from Tuesday, and is prepared to go it alone if the federal government doesn’t agree, the ABC said, without saying where it got the information.

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