Ross Clark

The outrage over Bournemouth beach contains a grain of deceit

The outrage over Bournemouth beach contains a grain of deceit
Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images
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The Covidiots are at it again – crowding onto beaches in flagrant breach of lockdown rules, treating the pandemic as if it were an extended bank holiday. Pictures of crowded beaches on Thursday inspired Chris Whitty to tweet that Covid-19 is ‘still in general circulation’, and worked Matt Hancock into such a froth that he threatened to close the beaches.

But are we really suffering a mass outbreak of irresponsibility or just the tyranny of the telephoto lens? Take a quick look at these two photos – and then take a more careful look. 

Boscombe beach in Bournemouth, southern England, on 25 June (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

Both were taken on Boscombe beach in Bournemouth on Thursday – and you can see from the shadows that both were taken in the middle of the day. Yet while one appears to show people packed together, showing contempt for the two-metre rule, the other shows almost everyone who is visible clearly respecting it. How come? The clue is in the cliffs. In one shot the bay seems to stretch forever into the distance, while in the other seems much more intimate. The other is taken with a lens that is drawing the background much closer to the foreground, making it look as if people are packed much more closely together than they actually are. Moreover, the shot crops out more of the immediate foreground, where it would be much more difficult to make it appear as if everyone was packed together.

The images of crowded beaches filling the newspapers this morning is as much a result of trickery as irresponsibility on the part of beachgoers. British beaches in the main are pretty large spaces – they are not like bars and nightclubs. They are capable of swallowing up huge numbers of people. In any case, the coronavirus does not transmit easily out of doors – especially not in hot weather like yesterday’s.

True, none of this excuses some behaviour witnessed on Thursday: people openly taking drugs on beaches and those littering the beaches with plastic bags, beer cans disposable barbecues and the like. No does it excuse dangerous parking, drunken brawls and so on. But to damn the vast majority of people who took advantage of the hot weather as irresponsible – and who will have the deaths of thousands of people on their hands if there is a second wave – is itself irresponsible. As for Matt Hancock’s threat to close some beaches, all he is going to achieve is to concentrate people elsewhere – unless he is threatening to lock us all indoors again. He might care to reflect, though, that far fewer people would have been able to go to the beach yesterday if all pupils had been at school and the government was not still trying to tell us to keep away from the office.