Matt Hancock warns beaches could close if people flout safety restrictions

Crowds gather on the beach in Bournemouth on one of the hottest days of the year. Photograph: Andrew

Crowds gather on the beach in Bournemouth on one of the hottest days of the year. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Health secretary Matt Hancock has warned the government will take action if social distancing measures are ignored as thousands flocked to the south coast on the hottest day of the year.

Hancock told talkRADIO that the government had the power to close public areas such as beaches if people flout safety restrictions.

It comes as Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council declared a major incident after services were 'completely overstretched' as huge numbers of visitors crowded onto the beaches during the day.

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty later urged people to follow social distancing rules in the hot weather or risk causing a spike in coronavirus.

He wrote on Twitter: 'Covid-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation.

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'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.'

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Stephen Reicher, a member of the government's SPI-B behavioural science advisory group, told the Times: 'The scenes on the south coast suggest that Chris Whitty's worst fears are being realised. Folk have heard the government's message as 'back to normal' and acted accordingly.'

Hancock said he was 'reluctant' to go down the route of shutting public spaces as 'people have had a pretty tough lockdown'.

But he added that if there was a spike in the number of coronavirus cases 'then we will take action'.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said extra police patrols had to be brought in following the 'irresponsible' behaviour of crowds who gridlocked roads, dumped rubbish, abused refuse collectors and parked illegally.

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