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Gold Coast beaches shut down after Queensland's weekend of insolence

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Popular Gold Coast beaches will be declared off-limits from midnight Tuesday in the hope it will disperse the crowds and keep sightseers away.

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Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate had repeatedly threatened to close the beaches if people did not heed the warnings to stay home and keep their distance during the pandemic. Photographs of crowds still enjoying the beach at the weekend, prompting outrage on social media, ultimately forced his hand.

This morning, Tate announced the first of what could be a series of beach bans, blaming non-residents who had sought an ill-advised escape to the coast.

From midnight tomorrow, beaches at Surfers Paradise, Coolangatta and The Spit will be closed by council officers and lifesavers, with parking inspectors re-deployed to enforce the bans. They may not reopen for months.

Police are already active on the Gold Coast enforcing NSW border restrictions and the council will also make available motor race barricades that are currently in storage.

“I didn’t want to do this,” Tate said, noting that he believed local residents were generally doing the right thing.

“Unfortunately, over the weekend, out-of-towners are descending on the Gold Coast in mass numbers and I fear that this number will increase over the Easter weekend.”

Health Minister Steven Miles had earlier told ABC Radio he hoped the decline in new cases of COVID-19 would “encourage Queenslanders to keep up their social distancing rather than leading to any kind of complacency”.

“I think most Queenslanders are doing the right thing,” Miles said, adding that police had shown they would fine anyone deliberately flouting the rules.

The most blatant flouting of Queensland’s coronavirus rules to date came on Saturday night.

About 10:00pm, when most people were at home in their pyjamas, police were alerted to a large car rally at Brickworks Place in Rochedale, south of Brisbane.

About 150 vehicles had pulled up in a warehouse carpark.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski told ABC News it was inexcusable.

“This is more than disappointing. It’s appalling behaviour,” he said.

“Everyone breaching the social distancing rules we have in this state under our chief health officer’s directions.”

Police said many cars tried to flee the area, some driving across grassland and getting bogged in the process.

Fifty-eight fines were issued, each worth $1334.

Prior to that, the total number of fines issued under the new health regulations was 39.

Gollschewski appealed to Queenslanders to do the right thing.

“[On Saturday] I’m aware that police had to intercept vehicles on the Gold Coast Highway with people intending to go to the beach for the day,” he said.

“You can’t travel all the way to the Gold Coast from Brisbane and do that.”

There were also large crowds at a Brisbane fresh food market, which left Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk fuming.

“Guys, it’s not on. If I see that happen again, they’re going to be shut down immediately,” she warned.

“It is not a chance to go down for an outing. You should only be going down there if you intend to purchase fresh produce.”

“Everyone needs to do the right thing and I’m giving my last warning.”

Market operators will make changes to pedestrian traffic flow to keep shoppers apart.

Gollschewski warned that anyone “recklessly and selfishly” ignoring the rules could expect to have “firm action taken against them”.

However, many people are following the social-distancing requirements.

“A large proportion of the community is getting it. They do understand it,” Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said.

The evidence of that would seem to be in the numbers.

Just nine new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Queensland on Sunday — the lowest increase in several weeks.

“Well done, Queensland. We’ve got a long way to go, but these signs are very encouraging,” Palaszczuk said.

Sadly, a fifth Queenslander died from coronavirus on Sunday.

Queensland Health said the 78-year-old man had an underlying medical condition and had recently returned from a cruise on the ill-fated Ruby Princess ship.

Since Queensland’s border restrictions came into force at the end of March, police have turned away about 500 vehicles.

More than 2300 quarantine notices have been issued at Queensland airports to domestic passengers.

– With ABC / Jessica van Vonderen

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