Sydney: Surf rescue personnel enforce a closure of Bondi Beach on Saturday after thousands of people flocked there in recent days, defying social distancing orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.—Reuters
Sydney: Surf rescue personnel enforce a closure of Bondi Beach on Saturday after thousands of people flocked there in recent days, defying social distancing orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.—Reuters

MELBOURNE: Australian officials closed Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach on Saturday after thousands of people flocked there in recent days, defying social distancing orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, amid an unusually warm autumn spell.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the crowds on the country’s most famous strip of sand were “unacceptable” as he reported the number of infections across Australia had risen sharply.

Hunt confirmed 874 cases, but Australian media later reported the tally exceeded 1,000 when updates from several states were taken into account. The death toll was seven, unchanged from a day earlier.

New South Wales state police minister David Elliott announced Bondi’s closure, warning “this is going to become the new norm” if people did not comply with regulations that prohibit more than 500 people gathering at a non-essential event.

“This is not something we are doing because we are the fun police,” Elliott said in a televised news conference. “This is about saving lives.” “We will be closing down the type of iconic activities that unfortunately we’ve come ... to love and adore about our lifestyle.”

Elliott said lifeguards who patrol the state’s many beaches will conduct head counts and, if there are more than 500 people at any one location, the beach will be closed and people ordered to move on.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2020