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Thousands flocking to English beaches trigger ‘major incident’ response as coronavirus rules ignored

Thousands of beachgoers in England defied coronavirus social distancing on Thursday as they flocked to the seaside to enjoy the U.K.’s warmest day of the year so far.

Police have urged people to stay away from the southern coastal town of Bournemouth, where council leaders have declared a “major incident.”

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“The irresponsible behavior and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe,” council leader Vikki Slade said. “We have had no choice now but to declare a major incident and initiate an emergency response.”

Crowds gather on the beach in Bournemouth as the U.K. experience a heat wave, in Bournemouth, England, on Thursday. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

Crowds gather on the beach in Bournemouth as the U.K. experience a heat wave, in Bournemouth, England, on Thursday. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

Beaches in Bournemouth and Brighton were crammed with sunbathers flouting social distancing rules on what meteorologists confirmed as the hottest day of the year. The temperature hit around 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33.3 Celcius) at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Slade said she was “absolutely appalled” at the scenes witnessed on the beaches — particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks over the past day or two.

Crowds gather at the beach in Brighton, England, on Thursday. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

Crowds gather at the beach in Brighton, England, on Thursday. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

Laura Miller, a local councilor, told the Guardian that when attempting to turn people away, she’s “been shouted and sworn at and one guy spat at me.”

“These are people who have traveled three or four hours in their car, they are hot and grumpy, and then they are turned away,” Miller said. “Some drivers have ignored our barriers and just knocked them over and driven through.”

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The council’s declaration gives additional powers to local authorities and emergency services to safeguard the public.

Extra police patrols have been brought in and security is in place to protect waste collectors who the council said faced “widespread abuse and intimidation” as they emptied overflowing bins. Roads were gridlocked for hours and signs have been erected telling people the area is full, according to the council.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave notice that several lockdown restrictions will be eased on July 4, including allowing pubs and restaurants to open their doors. He also effectively announced that the two-meter (6.5-foot) social distancing rule will be reduced to a meter (around three feet) from that date, a move that is largely aimed at bolstering businesses.

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The move has received criticism because the U.K. is still recording relatively high new coronavirus infections and deaths. On Thursday, the government said another 149 people who tested positive for the virus had died, taking the total to 43,230, by far the highest in Europe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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