Sunscreen? Check. Towel? Check. Mask? Disinfectant? At least six feet of space? Depends on where and what beach.
As tourists and travelers start to return to many of the world’s seasides, government health officials and scientists are turning their attention to every inch of sand to assess the risk of the coronavirus’s spread.
But while the novel coronavirus may dislike direct sun and open air, it loves a crowd and shared spaces. That’s why officials in southern England were so shocked last week by what they classed as a “major incident” amid a heat wave: thousands of people packing beaches, all in violation of social distancing measures. In Brazil, beachgoers have similarly flocked to sandy shores while flouting face mask recommendations.
From “beach bubbles” to drones to censors and cellphone tracking, here’s how some countries are readying their beaches for a summer of social distancing.
Greece’s picturesque sandy seasides have long been an alluring summer destination. But this year, the Mediterranean country has a new attraction: a low coronavirus count and, as a of mid-June, borders open to some foreign tourists.
Greece also wants to keep it that way, despite the risk of a resurgence posed by letting in travelers. So the government has devised a plan for mandating disinfectants and maintaining physical distances since it began to reopen beaches in mid-May, with updates since. Under current regulations, only up to 40 people will be permitted per every 1,000 square meters of beach, or about a quarter acre. A maximum of two chairs can be under each umbrella, which must be placed at least 13 feet from another. (An exemption is made for families, who are allowed to be in proximity to one other as a group.)
Beachgoers are supposed to place a towel on their chair, which staff are required to sanitize after every use. To further discourage crowds, beach-based restaurants were initially allowed to serve only takeaway meals, and no alcohol, to people waiting at least five feet apart while in line.
Beachgoers who violate these rules can face a fine from the police of up to $1,120, according to the BBC.
Cellphone tracking and censors will be deployed to keep Belgium’s seaside resorts and beaches less crowded this summer, Reuters reported.
Beaches are allowed to open as of Saturday, and the government has devised a tracking system aimed at rerouting residents and tourists to less-populated areas. Using cellphone data and 130 censors stationed around towns, authorities will be updating a public website sharing in real-time that areas are more or less crowded. Dark green will indicate an area is calm, while orange will denote high density, according to the Reuters news agency.
Some local governments have devised their own designs. In the town of Knokke-Heist, tourism council member Anthony Wittesaele came up with “beach bubbles” – or markings in the sand to indicate 32-square-foot boxes, or about the size of a medium-size carpet.
“We have implemented what we call ‘beach bubbles,’ where one family or friends can be together in a safe way and to visualize the distance that they should be from one another,” he told Reuters.
The financial center of the United Arab Emirates is beginning to reopen, months after its upscale malls and lavish hotels shut down. During scorching summer days, much of life in the Emirates happens in the air-conditioned indoors, which now poses a problem for coronavirus infection-control.
But in public, the politically restrictive city-state is trying to enforce its new beach protocol. Dubai has made mask-wearing at the beach mandatory and banned groups of more than five. Masks while in the water, though, are not required. (Masks in general are required in public, except in some instances like strenuous exercise.)
Between May 29, when beaches reopened, and June 7 the government reported that 316 people were penalized for violating the rules, according to the Abu Dhabi-based the National newspaper. On just one Friday in early June, police cited 221 offenders. The fine for violating face mask-wearing and social-distancing rules is more than $800.
Police told the National they have also made use of drones to zone in on rule breakers.
Thailand still remains closed to international travelers, so its beloved beaches have fewer crowds and possible pitfalls to worry about.
In the meantime, mask-clad workers at the entrance of beachside venues screen and count everyone entering to keep a low capacity. In the coastal city of Pattaya, beachgoers are required to stay around three feet apart. Residents told the South China Morning Post that they had never seen the water so clean or sand so empty.
Like many Southeast Asian countries, Thailand’s confirmed coronavirus count remains comparatively low to other European or Latin American countries. But it has still taken the virus seriously. Some beaches reopened only on June 1. And after kick-starting local tourism, the government is considering travel corridors with China and Japan, among others, Bloomberg News reported.
Drones are also buzzing above the carefully monitored beaches of Lloret de Mar, a resort town in northeastern Spain.
Spain is readying for the return of foreign travelers after curbing its initial coronavirus outbreak, which killed more than 28,300 people. “The way we go to the beach this year has changed but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it,” urged a promotional video for one resort very popular with British tourists, AFP reported.
At Lloret de Mar, sensors are also in place to alert the municipality when an area’s capacity has been reached. Visitors can then access this information via a designated app, according to AFP.
So far, crowding hasn’t been an issue. But Lloret de Mar is prepared for all kinds of beach conditions. The local government has additionally devised plans for cordoning off sections based on age, such as designating special areas for the elderly, families with children, and groups without kids.
In May, France initially reopened its beaches to short-term exercising but banned most other activities. That prompted one resort to experiment with social-distancing compliant sunbathing, The Washington Post reported. The resort town of La Grande Motte near Montpelier roped off 75 squares to keep people separated. The municipality’s website then offered beachgoers the chance to reserve a three-hour spot up to two days in advance. Openings quickly filled up.
As of June, restrictions at beaches are more loose, though people are still recommended to keep wearing face masks, wash hands and stay at a distance from others.