Three of Australia’s most famous beaches will close after crowds flocked to popular surf breaks over the weekend, breaching social distancing laws and risking the spread of COVID-19.
Hundreds of people across the country continue to breach new laws and border control measures announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordering them to stay home unless it’s essential, and to gather in groups of no greater than two.
Among those, Victorian learner driver, Hunter Reynolds, 17, was fined $1652 by police while learning to drive “too far from home” and 58 people at a Queensland car rally were fined $1334 each for also failing to comply with COVID-19 directions.
Hunter’s mother Sharee told Melbourne radio station 3AW they were travelling about 30 kilometres from their Hampton home to Frankston.
“We didn’t think for one minute that we would be doing anything wrong,” she said.
“We weren’t in contact with any person, we weren’t stopping anywhere, we weren’t planning on visiting any destinations, we were just learning to drive in those conditions.
“She (the officer) said we were too far from home and we would cop a fine, and that Hunter would be the person to receive that fine.”
The officer told them they’d been “smashing it on the roads today”.
A Victoria Police spokesperson told The New Daily on Monday a total of 307 people had so far been fined since the new restrictions were introduced on March 30.
A NSW police spokesperson said that since March 17, police have issued 98 PINs (Penalty Infringement Notices) and 8 Court Attendance Notices (CANs) for breaches of the Public Health Act NSW (2010).
In one of the many incidents documented, officers from South Coast Police District were conducting patrols of the North Nowra area on Sunday morning about 2am when they found a car parked in bushland.
“As police approached, four women were sighted in the vehicle, including three who were lying down in the backseat. The women told police they had been at a party but had been asked to leave. They were each issued with a $1000 PIN,” a NSW police statement read.
In Queensland, police confirmed 139 infringement notices had been issued to people breaking the new laws.
Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate said on Monday that “unfortunately out-of-towners” had travelled down from Brisbane and Logan to the Gold Coast’s iconic beaches at Surfers Paradise, The Spit and Coolangatta at the weekend.
He said the beaches would close from midnight on Tuesday – ahead of an expected influx for the long Easter weekend. More would follow if people continued to ignore advice from health authorities.
“The curve is flattening. This is not the time to relax, it’s time to kill it off,” Councillor Tate said.
The mayor said closing the beaches was a reluctant decision, designed to protect the community. While “Gold Coast beaches are quintessential Gold Coast”, authorities had to consider the overall situation.
“For us to win this fight against COVID-19, we are in it together. And if the minority of people are absolutely congregating and spreading it, I know, governing for the majority but in this case, the health issue is a No.1 priority,” he said.
Car parks will be barricaded off to stop beach access, and council officers will monitor illegal parking. The closed beaches will also be patrolled by authorities.
“We love you but we don’t want you visiting now. The beaches are open for our locals so they can walk and continue to exercise. We will be working through the finer details to have parking officers redeployed to
monitor illegal parking,” Cr Tate said.
“I didn’t want to do this but over the weekend, shows me, especially people visiting from Brisbane are not listening to us.”
He said anecdotal information was that when drivers were pulled over by police, many said they were going to the beach.
“It’s not essential travel,” Counciller Tate said. “Out-of-towners are congregating and not respecting what we Gold Coasters are doing … really sending the message out to Brisbane and Logan that the Premier says stay in your suburb. And Brisbane is not part of your suburb.”
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll told reporters on Monday afternoon 139 infringement notices have been issued in less than a week to people breaking the law. She said people had been pinged for non-essential travel, breaking quarantine, and a lack of social distancing in parks.
“Disappointingly, even though we’ve given a lot of messaging around this, people are still blatantly disregarding the rules,” she said.
“On the weekend, we have fined people for blatantly just being out and about, going for a ride or a drive, which is clearly non-essential travel — it’s happened time and time again.”
Queensland Police have intercepted 23,000 vehicles since last Friday, and turned away 532 vehicles.
Councillor Tate said if the barricades and council restrictions didn’t deter beachgoers, he said, they risked parking fines and “the laws will keep escalating”.
Meanwhile, Victoria police have fined another 108 people in the past 24 hours for breaching the state’s COVID-19 self-isolation rules. Officers have done 983 spot checks in the past two days and more than 14,000 since March 21.