Fear of second spike in coronavirus from relaxation of lockdown

Leading councillors in Southend fear there could be a second spike of coronavirus infections after the government announced sunbathing and visiting beaches will now be allowed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday that the nationwide lockdown would be relaxed and starting Wednesday, people will be able to leave their homes to visit beaches and parks providing they follow social distancing guidance.

But Southend’s council leader Councillor Ian Gilbert said he is “very concerned” by the guidance which he sees as unenforceable.

He has also refused to rule out closing the seafront or public parks should the guidance put people at risk.

“I am very concerned about the impact of the guidance when unlimited exercise and sunbathing in public places is considered okay,” said the council leader.

“I am worried about how we can enforce or maintain any sort of physical distancing because it is hard to see how we will stop large crowds from visiting the seafront when people have effectively been told by the government it is okay to go to public places.

“We will be speaking to the police and community safety colleagues about what we can do over the next few days.

“While it would appear perverse after managing this reasonably well and when restrictions are being loosened to then close open spaces. It would run counter to what the government is suggesting but I am not ruling anything out at this stage.”

Councillor Martin Terry (Ind), who oversees community safety, also said he was concerned and this has been made worse by the government’s failure to provide adequate guidance about visits to the seafront.

“What I find deeply frustrating is that we have gone to the highest echelons of government and asked repeatedly what guidance they can give to seaside towns but the government aren’t giving any specific advice and they need to do that,” he said.

“On Saturday we got overwhelmed byvisitors but that is just the start of it. It is going to get much more challenging as the summer goes on.

“My primary responsibility is keeping the resident of Southend safe. If we get a deluge of people from other towns which have higher incidents of coronavirus then it will be putting the people of Southend at risk.

He added that the government had “passed responsibility to individuals” and based on the problems the town experienced over the weekend when hundreds of daytrippers descended on the seafront, there is a “real risk of a second outbreak”.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter