Southend MPs warn second wave of coronavirus could be driven by beach crowds

Southend MPs have warned that beach-goers could become the cause of a second spike of coronavirus.

Thousands of people flocked to beaches across the country after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced restrictions on visiting the seafront would be lifted at the end of March.

But with beaches becoming so busy that visitors were seen breaking social distancing rules, politicians fear coastal towns will be the first to be hit by a second wave of Covid-19.

James Duddridge MP for Rochford and Southend East said it is up to everyone to “use our common sense” to avoid another spike.

“The Government has already said lockdown measures will be reintroduced if required, so it is up to all of us to use our common sense so we can avoid a second peak of the virus,” he said.

“While people now have the freedom to visit the seaside, they must do so in a responsible way.

“This means using public transport for essential journeys only, avoiding large crowds, maintaining social distancing at all times, and not mixing en masse with other households.”

The concerns were backed by Sir David Amess MP for Southend West, who said that if the R-number, which indicated the speed the disease is spreading, were to increase it would mean the beaches being “strictly monitored”.

He said: “The arrangements for visitors to the seafront has in part worked well, as far as local residents are concerned, but there have been concerns with visitors from outside the area.

“I know that this is a difficult issue in balancing health concerns with those of the impact on our economy, but if the R rate were to climb in Southend, then unquestionably Southend beach will have to be more strictly monitored for visitors.”

He did not elaborate on how monitoring the beach could take place.

The comments have come after several other MPs who represent coastal towns in the south warned their areas could also be hit with localised lockdowns if there is a surge in cases.

Among them was Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas who said it would be a “disaster” if new lockdowns had to be implemented.

However, Southend’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley has questioned why the MPs didn’t speak up weeks ago.

“If MPs were going to say something they should have done it three weeks ago when Boris Johnson said go forward and spread the disease on beaches and parks and country parks,” he said.

“Those MPs should have come out then and said hold on prime minister you are putting people at risk.”

Mr Woodley admitted Southend could be at risk, but said that if the virus is spread primarily by visitors, it could cause those people to take it back to their home towns, rather than cause a surge in Southend.

Joan Tiney, chair of the Seafront Trader Association, said: “I am very concerned about this. Businesses have been shut since March 20 and God knows when many of them will re-open or whether it will be viable with social distancing measures in place.

“I can’t see traders being happy about a second lockdown. I don’t see anyone being in favour of a lockdown on the seafront.”

She added that it was “a bit early” for the prime minister to allow people back onto the seafront but the government “can’t keep this going on forever”.

Councillor Trevor Harp, who oversees health in Southend, said: “Local authorities have to prepare local outbreak control plans by the end of June, with issues like this being considered as part of that plan.

“The first stage of this process will be consideration and discussion with the Health and Wellbeing Board on Wednesday.

“Whilst we believe viral transmission in the east of England is currently lower than many other areas of the country, we must remain vigilant as a borough and ensure that we keep practising good social distancing, and adhere to the Government guidance currently in place including regular handwashing, both to stay safe and well, and to avoid the need for more localised containment.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter