Bondi Beach to reopen for surfing as Australia coronavirus cases slow

A closed Bondi Beach is seen in Sydney on April 22, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Swimmers and surfers will return to Sydney's famed Bondi Beach next week, almost six weeks after it was closed amid a spike in coronavirus cases, officials announced on Wednesday (April 22).

But the white sands will remain off-limits to sunbathers, joggers and families in an effort to maintain Australia's strict social distancing requirements.

Paula Masselos, mayor of Waverley, which takes in Bondi and surrounds, said locals could return to the ocean starting 28 April via two access points only.

"What these corridors will do is provide a safe access into the water for swim-and-go and surf-and-go only. So that is for exercise in the water," she told reporters in Sydney.

"The sand is closed: which means no running, no walking, no gathering, no bringing your kids down to play in the sand and have a paddle in the water."

Bondi and nearby beaches were closed in late March after photos circulated online showing mostly young beachgoers packed together on the sands in defiance of a ban on large outdoor gatherings.

The area was also designated a Covid-19 "hotspot" after more than 180 cases were detected among backpackers and residents, prompting health authorities to establish a pop-up testing clinic.

Masselos urged non-residents not to visit Bondi, saying the beach corridors would close if demand was too high.

"We want to make sure it operates within the social distancing and public health order rules," she said.

"And if people are not going to respect that and if the numbers are too great, regrettably we will have to close those." Other Sydney beaches, including Coogee and Maroubra, reopened Monday to the sound of loudspeaker announcements warning swimmers to abide by social distancing rules.

Australia has recorded more than 6,600 cases of COVID-19, and 74 deaths from the virus.

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