Mayor wants St Kilda foreshore shut if beachgoers cause virus outbreak

Port Phillip Council could close St Kilda promenade if beachgoers continue to flout the state’s social distancing and stay-at-home rules and flock to the bayside playground.

The warm weather proved too hard to resist for hundreds of people on Wednesday, who took to a stretch of the foreshore between St Kilda and Middle Park.

Sunbathers on Middle Park beach took advantage of the warm weather on Wednesday afternoon.Credit:Erin Pearson

Sunbakers laying on the beach, couples eating lunch at a park bench and a man reading a book while perched on the edge of a closed outdoor gym were among those who appeared to be flouting the state’s anti-coronavirus measures along the foreshore on Wednesday.

Others were seen sitting and drinking takeaway coffee on park benches metres from Western Beach Pavilion, in what may have been a breach of legislation requiring customers to move on after making a purchase.

City of Port Phillip mayor Bernadene Voss said while most leisure seekers appeared to be doing the right thing, the sheer volume of people flocking to walking and cycling tracks along the beachfront made it difficult for many to maintain a constant 1.5-metre gap as recommended.

She said if a significant outbreak were to hit the area, she would support tougher lockdown measures that could prevent locals from being outdoors at all.

A person reads a book at Middle Park foreshore on Wednesday.Credit:Erin Pearson

“Many people are too complacent about what it is we are experiencing and what we need to do," Ms Voss said. “We really need to get through to people that these measures are in place because lives are at stake.”

“Just because we live near the beach doesn’t mean we’re immune to an outbreak here.

“Overall people are doing the right things but there are some people still too close together.”

The council has dispatched off-road local laws buggies to patrol the sand, alongside marked and unmarked police patrols of the area.

Beaches currently closed across the City of Port PhillipCredit:Simon Schluter

Ms Voss said council officers had been called to Catani Gardens over the weekend to move on a group of people caught playing soccer, in contravention of the new legislation.

She said popular exercise times – particularly mornings and evenings – were busiest, with the St Kilda foreshore proving particularly "problematic".

Ms Voss urged residents to abide by the rules or face losing access to the popular trails altogether.

“This is a real threat so please obey the rules," she said. “If it got worse I'd be likely thinking we need to do more."

Middle Park during stage three restrictions on March 31, 2020. People exercise at a closed beachside gym. 

Last month Port Phillip moved to eliminate mass gatherings and closed its skate park and exercise stations to to help reduce any spread of COVID-19.

It closed beaches on March 27 after warm weather drew thousands to the foreshore. The council has since allowed access to the beach for people to take a dip or walk the dog but has banned people from sitting on the sand or gathering in groups.

It prompted police to up their patrols and use drone technology to monitor beach areas in area.

As of late on Wednesday, Victoria had recorded 1299 cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths. Port Phillip remains in the state's top 10 hotspots for the virus with 46 cases.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said there were only four reasons for people to leave their homes: food and supplies, medical care and care giving, exercise, work and education.

Police have 1249 people fined since the restrictions were put in place.

Those caught breaching the rules face $1652 fines and potential court action.

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