Waverley mayor Paula Masselos said she is confident beaches will remain open, but is “absolutely” concerned about large crowds flocking to Bondi and Bronte as temperatures rise.
Sunbathers stretched out on the sand and grassed areas, swimmers braved the chilled water and the promenade along Bondi Beach was filled with walkers and joggers on Saturday under the watchful gaze of police, lifeguards, rangers and council ambassadors.
Cr Masselos said “everyone seemed to be behaving well”, but with warmer weather forecast on Sunday, she said beachgoers should avoid the beach if it looks busy.
“We need to remember that we are still in a pandemic and we need to adapt our behaviour to
that reality,” she said.
“If you are considering making the trip out to Bondi tomorrow, and the beaches look busy, please come back another time.”
Cr Masselos said this weekend was a “test run” for summer and she expressed hope that people would continue to observe social distancing and crowd limits: “The last thing we want to do is to have our close our beaches.”
A NSW Health spokeswoman said Waverley remained one of the areas of concern for community transmission, yet few visitors wore face masks, and there were few cars queuing at the drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic in Bondi Beach car park.
Shirtless and sunbathing on the grass next to North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, Declan Keating said he had been “waiting for the sun to come out for months”.
“It has been getting busier over the past few weeks as it gets a bit warmer,” he said.
Mr Keating was more than 1.5 metres from other beachgoers on Saturday, but he said: “A lot of people aren’t socially distancing as well as they could be.”
North Bondi’s outdoor gym was also busy with muscle-bound men flexing and posing between chin-ups and chest presses under the watchful eyes of council ambassadors wearing shirts with the message “Spread kindness not germs”.
Igor Volovichev said council rangers “come every now and then” to check that gym users are socially distanced while working out: “I think they’re satisfied with what’s happening otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
With a forecast high of 25 degrees on Sunday, Bondi lifeguards intended to use this weekend’s warm weather as a test run for summer, telling sunbathers to lay their towels 1.5 metres apart and not crowd around the flags.
“Today the community demonstrated that they can adapt well so we are confident that with sensible behaviour we can keep our beaches open and defeat COVID-19,” Cr Masselos said.
Scenes of large crowds on Bondi Beach in March attracted widespread censure and prompted several councils to temporarily close beaches. Waverley Council reopened Bondi Beach in late April for exercise only, with fencing and marshals to control crowds.
Rules have since been eased to allow groups of no more than 20, and beachgoers have been told to keep their distance by sitting one “towel-length” apart.
Mr Volovichev said he hoped the beach and outdoor gym would remain open.
“Nobody wants a lockdown,” he said. “We find it like a home. I spend 80 per cent of my time [here] meeting people, having fun, going for a swim. It would be a shame if it was lockdowned again.”
“I guess it depends on how well distance is kept, which we’re all trying to maintain.”
Mr Keating said another beach closure was “a possibility, but you hope we’re over the worst of it”. “I guess Victoria was a big eye-opener in terms of going back into lockdown,” he said.
Mr Keating said he believed there was less concern about the risk of COVID-19 infection compared to earlier this year.
“I find people are more vigilant in tight spaces on public transport,” he said. “Out in the open, I’d agree that people are a bit more blasé and kind of just forgetting about it.”
Mr Keating said he expected more visitors would flock to beaches as the weather warmed up.
“What’s it going to be when it comes to November, December, and it comes into real summer?” he said.
There are 24 hazard reductions scheduled for the weekend, predominantly in the Sydney, Hunter and Central Coast regions, that are intended to protect hundreds of homes in the coming fire season.
The Rural Fire Service’s James Morris said the weekend’s warm daytime temperatures and light winds created the “perfect hazard reduction conditions”.
Recent wet weather and the length of the past fire season has delayed mitigation efforts, with less than 30 per cent of scheduled works completed in the past 12 months.
While the RFS’ main concern this year is the grass fires, large parts of bushland across the state remain unburnt.
“Obviously grass fires are our main concern at this stage, but it won’t take long for some forested areas to dry out and see a potential threat of fire. There’s still a chance for those areas that didn’t burn last year to have fires,” Mr Morris said. “It’s a risk that we have to continue to monitor.”
with Laura Chung
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Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.