Govt makes beaches U-turn – but they’re still closed this weekend

After three months, Hong Kong’s beach shutdown has officially ended – but you still won’t be able to legally visit a beach until next Tuesday.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages Hong Kong’s 39 public beaches, announced the lifting of the ban earlier this week.

The re-opening, which includes Lantau’s popular Cheung Sha, Pui O, Tong Fuk and Silvermine Bay beaches, coincides with the regular end of the lifeguard season, so there will be no lifeguards on duty.

The decision came six weeks after swimming pools were opened again and just three days after a critical South China Morning Post article asked why Hong Kongers were now free to visit Singapore but not the local beach.

Ocean Recovery Alliance founder Doug Woodring pointed out to the SCMP “there’s hundreds of people in Central standing right next to each other on every street corner every day.”

By contrast, “when people go to the beach, they like to stay separate naturally.”

An LCSD spokesperson said the closures were due to “the open environment” of beaches that made it “difficult to enforce the epidemic prevention and social distancing measures as implemented in sports venues and swimming pools.”

Three days later, these social distancing measure suddenly became enforceable as the department lifted its ban, although it did remind people to wear a mask “at all times” on the beach.

In reality, the beach closures have been somewhat farcical all along and there is no shortage of Lantau residents who have continued to swim, walk or exercise their dog on the beach despite the official closures.

That is because the restrictions apply only to the area inside the rope and the shark net. Outside are no limits, but there also are no lifeguard services and the waters are often more dangerous.

This has brought other problems. As Olivier Courret, who runs a group called Open Water Swimmers of Hong Kong, told the SCMP:

“The main issue is people swimming outside the safety nets because they don’t have a choice any more,” he said. “And some of them don’t have open water common sense, or skills, and I could see them putting themselves in dangerous situations.

Not for the first time, the government had made the right decision after exhausting all other possibilities.

Photo: Pui O Beach (file photo)

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