Thousands of Sydneysiders blatantly ignored the government’s social distancing advice on Friday, flocking to the city’s multiple beaches in large groups.
Social media images show hordes of people, sitting very close together despite medical officials and Prime Minister Scott Morrison constantly warning Australians to stay 1.5m apart to help flatten the curve of COVID-19.
The NSW government has now closed Bondi Beach after Friday’s gathering exceeded Australia’s outdoor gathering limit of 500 people.
The PM has also closed pubs, registered and licensed clubs, gyms and indoor sporting venues to shut down, while restaurants and cafes will be limited to takeaway orders only. Casinos, cinemas, church services and entertainment venues will also close.
The shutdown is predicted to last six months.
Among many others, Bondi GP Dr Amandeep Hansra was outraged by the images of packed beaches.
“These images make me feel angry. There have been clear instructions from the Government about social distancing. Sitting at the beach that close, encourages transmission of the virus,” Bondi GP Dr Amandeep Hansra told HuffPost Australia.
“They may think they will only have a ‘mild illness’ if they get COVID-19, but there have been cases of young, fit, people ending up in Intensive Care Units. They are also able to transmit this virus to our more vulnerable community members, those older or with chronic medical problems who can potentially lose their lives from being infected with COVID-19.”
Dr Hansra added there have been reports of people who have come back with positive results, walking around the beaches in Sydney and still attending parties and cafes.
The backlash for Aussies and tourists who were seen defying the strict advice on social distancing jolted fury from many online with some comparing the Sydney images to pictures of empty NYC and LA in lockdown.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has blasted people who were at the beach in large groups on Friday.
“What happened in Bondi is unacceptable, the local council must step in,” he told reporters at a press conference on Saturday.
“If you are breaking those rules you’re not just putting your selves at risk, but other Australians. We need to be our most responsible selves.
“We make no apologies for making tough restrictions.”
“Flattening the curve” means staggering the number of COVID-19 cases over a longer period of time so everyone can have better access to care.
There’s a finite number of hospital beds across the country, and a finite number of ventilators and other equipment needed to care for the most severely affected patients. Doctors and nurses’ time and attention, too, are not unlimited resources. That’s all on top of the usual load of patients suffering from other things ― cancer, cardiac issues, the whole lot. The health care system is only built to help so many people at one time.
That’s why mitigating the spread of the virus is essential.
(A number of people have shared similar versions of the “curve” chart ― this one comes from Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Auckland.)
It might seem like a lot to ask, but the curve illustrates what’s at stake if people do not adhere to the advice of public health authorities. A high curve indicates the virus is spreading quickly, which means some people aren’t going to get the care they need and the fatality rate is likely to increase. A low curve means it’s spreading slowly, allowing doctors the time to address more patients’ concerns ― and decreasing the overall number of people who need that attention.
For an idea of how bad things could get, look to Italy. A harrowing Sky News report went viral on YouTube on Friday, showing scenes of overwhelmed doctors and nurses at a hospital in northern Italy - the centre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.
The death toll in Italy has leapt by 627 to 4,032, an increase of 18.4% — by far the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago.
On Thursday, Italy overtook China as the country to register most deaths from the highly contagious virus.
Until Friday, Italy had never recorded more than 475 deaths in a single day, while China, where the contagion has slowed sharply, has never reported more than 150. However, HuffPost Italy reports (in Italian) that of those originally infected nationwide, 5,129 had fully recovered on Friday compared to 4,440 the day before.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard blasted those who were not complying with social distancing rules.
“There were reports that Bondi had many thousands of people. Many of them were not keeping the psychical separation we all need,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in Bondi or in a Church, separate by 1.5m.”
Sara Boboltz and James Martin contributed to this report.