SYDNEY (Reuters) – On a cool but sunny autumn morning, dozens of surfers lined up in anticipation and, as the metal barricades were moved aside, raced down the beach for their first authorised encounter in weeks with Australia’s most famous shoreline.
Tuesday’s partial reopening of Sydney’s Bondi Beach was part of a gradual easing of social distancing and other restrictions imposed to curtail the coronavirus epidemic.
Bondi was completely shut for five weeks after large crowds continued to flout the curbs by sunbathing and swimming there.
But with the growth of coronavirus cases having slowed to well below 1% a day, Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, is now letting surfers go back there – though only along a narrow channel of cordoned-off beach that leads straight to the water.
Similar arrangements are in place on neighbouring beaches and, once their exercise is over, visitors are being urged to head straight home.
“It’s so good to be back in the water. We have been craving for it since the beach was closed,” Sydney resident Pierre Rainard told Reuters TV.
“Big hot sun and nice water, it’s beautiful, perfect.”
Another Sydneysider, Daryn Sennett, said the access area onto the beach was large enough. “I think most people taking note of it at the moment, following the rules and hopefully it keeps the beaches open.”
NSW state premier Gladys Berejiklian plans to relax other restrictions from Friday, including allowing residents to welcome up to two visitors to their homes.
Federal restrictions, notably the closure of restaurants and pubs and the country’s borders, and attendance limits at weddings and funerals, are due to remain in place until at least mid-May.
(Writing by Colin Packham; editing by John Stonestreet)