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Coronavirus: Sydney reopens three beaches despite expert warning on social distancing

Published: Updated:

Sydney, the largest city in Australia, has reopened three beaches despite experts warning that the government should not lift social distancing measures even though the rate of coronavirus infections in the country has been consistently slowing.

The move comes on the same day a range of European countries including Germany indicated they were slowly beginning to ease restrictions put into place to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Australia, which has recorded 6,617 cases of COVID-19 and 71 deaths, still has social distancing restrictions in place.

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But on Sunday, a local council in Sydney announced it was reopening three beaches to the public – despite them having been identified as high risk for infection by health authorities just last month, according to Australia’s ABC News.

The three beaches are Coogee, Marouba, and Clovelly and were closed for a month. Australia’s more famous beaches, including Bondi Beach, remain shut.

ABC quoted Danny Sandwick, the Mayor of Randwick – the local council which ordered the beaches to reopen – as saying he was confident people that people would practice social distancing while walking, running, swimming or surfing.

Crowded beaches despite instructions to social distance have been one of the most enduring images of the coronavirus pandemic from Australia.

People walk past a Beach Closed sign at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, April 1, 2020. (Reuters)
People walk past a Beach Closed sign at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, April 1, 2020. (Reuters)

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Economists warn against reopening too early

On Monday, more than 150 Australian economists warned that the government should not ease social distancing rules even as the rate of infections slowed to a multi-week low, according to Reuters.

Australia has so far avoided the high numbers of coronavirus casualties reported around the world after closing its borders and imposing restrictions on public movement, with only 71 deaths compared to thousands in most European countries.

While the measures have slowed the growth in new infections to fewer than 40 new cases a day, the restrictions are expected to push unemployment to a 16-year high of about 10 percent.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said there would no easing of Australia’s restrictions for at least four weeks, and several state premiers on Monday urged the public to keep to the social distancing rules.

“We’ve all made massive sacrifices, given a lot. We can’t give back all the gains made because of sense of frustration gets the better of us,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Any significant easing of the current limitations would not occur until Australia had increased testing capacity, strengthened contact tracing and readied local responses for further outbreaks, Andrews said.

Central to the government’s strategy is a controversial new mobile phone app that will track users’ movements to allow contact tracing in the event of an outbreak of coronavirus.

The government said it will need at least 40 percent of the country’s population to be signed up to make it effective.

With Reuters.