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We must all take responsibility for stopping spread of COVID-19

Many people, both here in Dorset and across the rest of the country, were shocked to see the images of crowds on our beaches this weekend.

Photographs of hundreds of people packed tightly together as the police, paramedics and coastguard responded to an emergency incident at Durdle Door featured in headline news. Many of us watched in disbelief to see this happening while we are still in the grip of a pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

In England, guidelines have been changed to relax lockdown measures, and the Government has been very clear that they want people to take responsibility for their own actions.

Things need to change now 

The reality is that we cannot face another weekend like the last one, things need to change now.

Over the last few weeks, since the Government replaced the ‘stay at home’ line in favour of ‘be alert’, the Chief Constable and I have been at pains to point out that police officers are now unable to stop people coming. All they can do is enforce the legislation – which means that day trips to outdoor open space in private vehicles are now allowed.

Police also have no powers when it comes to social distancing, as they enforce legislation and not Government guidance.

Some, including Dorset Council leader Cllr Spencer Flower, have led the call for the Government to change the guidance back to what it was before travel restrictions were relaxed.

But legislation is a matter for the legislators – not for policing. All officers are able to do is enforce the law fairly, reasonably and proportionately.

Show some responsibility 

And that is why I am urgently calling on people outside the county to show some responsibility.

They must think twice before coming here. I cannot stress this enough. As the shocking photographs from this weekend showed, many access routes to our beaches are far too narrow to even attempt social distancing.

Practices like ‘tombstoning’ – jumping off high cliffs or other objects into the water – are seasonal issues which the emergency services in coastal areas have to deal with every summer.

This is of course always an incredibly dangerous activity which should never be encouraged, but now in particular is not the time to do anything that could put the emergency services under extra pressure.

Pandemic is far from over

To those even thinking about coming here again, squeezing onto overcrowded beaches, or taking part in hazardous activities, I ask you to search your consciences.

Did you take part in the weekly Thursday night clap for key workers? Do you understand that what you are doing could be putting those very people, as well as the residents of Dorset, at risk?

There are very real fears that more visitors continuing to behave in this way could push up the R rate, create a second wave of infections here in Dorset, and cause our county to become the first area of the UK to go back into a regional lockdown.

We cannot afford a repeat of the incidents that happened last weekend. The COVID-19 emergency is far from over and everyone must take responsibility for controlling the spread of the disease. If this irresponsible behaviour continues, sadly it will be people of our county rather than visitors who could pay the price.

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