Matt Hancock threatens to close beaches after thousands defy social distancing rules to head to coast

The government has threatened to close beaches after thousands of people flocked to the Dorset coast on the hottest day of the year. (PA)

The government has threatened to close beaches and other public areas if people ignore social distancing measures after thousands flocked to the coast on the hottest day of the year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government has the power to close public areas if people flout coronavirus restrictions.

The warning comes after violence broke out on packed beaches as temperatures soared to as high as 33.4C in parts of the country, with three men stabbed during a fight near the amusements on Bournemouth pier on Thursday evening.

All three were taken to hospital for treatment but their conditions are not described as life-threatening.

Rubbish was left strewn on the beach in Bournemouth after people headed to the seaside during the heatwave. (Getty)

Concerns over social distancing have been heightened following the scenes on the south coast, as well as in Liverpool where thousands of football fans also flocked to Anfield on Thursday night to celebrate the club winning the Premier League.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council declared a major incident on Thursday after huge numbers of visitors crowded onto beaches during the day, rendering services “completely overstretched” and leaving 41 tonnes of rubbish strewn on the sand.

The council said extra police patrols had to be brought in following the “irresponsible” behaviour of crowds who gridlocked roads, dumped rubbish, abused refuse collectors and parked illegally.

Health secretary Matt Hancock warned on Thursday that the government has the power to close public areas such as beaches if people flout safety restrictions.

He told TalkRadio he was “reluctant” to go down the route of shutting public spaces as “people have had a pretty tough lockdown”, but added that if there was a spike in coronavirus cases “then we will take action”.

Thousands of Liverpool fans flocked to Anfield to celebrate the club's Premier League title. (PA)

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty urged people to follow social distancing rules in the hot weather or risk a spike in coronavirus cases.

He wrote on Twitter: “COVID-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation.

“If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again. Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all.”

A major incident was declared as authorities were left over-stretched by the crowds who travelled to the beach on Thursday. (PA)

Doctors have also pleaded with holidaymakers to practise social distancing ahead of the tourism industry reopening next weekend.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has set out guidelines for people in England, who will be allowed to visit hotels, bed and breakfast facilities and campsites from 4 July.

The BMA advised people not to travel if they are ill or have any COVID-19 symptoms, including a cough, temperature or loss of smell or taste and said holidaymakers should be prepared to self-isolate for 14 days if anyone in their “bubble” develops symptoms or is told to do so by the NHS Test and Trace service.

The doctors’ union said people who take prescribed medicines should make sure they have enough to last their trip and everyone should practise social distancing and hand washing on holiday. It also encouraged people to wear a face covering when mixing with people from outside their “bubble” indoors.

Chair of the BMA public health medicine committee Dr Peter English urged tourism providers and local authorities to consider how they can help mitigate the risk of the virus spreading and urged holidaymakers to act with “extreme caution”.

He said: “Lockdown is being eased and many aspects of life are returning to some form of normality, however, it is vitally important to recognise that this deadly virus has not gone away.”

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