Beaches eyed as United States takes steps toward reopening

People gather on Huntington Beach which remains open amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 23, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2020

Beaches eyed as United States takes steps toward reopening

  • The move to enjoy the better weather comes after the United States on Friday recorded 36,491 new cases of COVID-19
  • More than 911,000 people in the United States have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 52,000 people have died

WASHINGTON: Many Americans are expected to flock to beaches on Saturday as one Florida county relaxed restrictions and California braced for a heat wave, even as new cases of the novel coronavirus hit a record high the day before.
Volusia County, home to the famed Daytona Beach, opened lots at its coastal parks on Saturday to handicapped visitors, one step in a phased reopening that has so far limited its beaches to those wanting to walk, surf, bike or swim.
The step is warranted by the county's successful efforts to suppress cases of the virus, George Recktenwald, the county manager, said at a briefing on Friday, although he likened the situation to tapping the brakes on a car going downhill.
"We are starting to let up that brake a little bit but you don't want to do it too fast because you don't want to speed out of control," he said. "If you are on the beach you should be physically active. No sitting, sunbathing or hanging out with a cooler."
John Overchuck, 45, who lives in a beachfront home with his wife and toddler daughter just south of Daytona Beach in New Smyrna Beach, said it's "way too soon to do this."
"I know they have rules and restrictions, but people aren't listening," he said.
"I walked on the beach 10 minutes ago and it's packed. That wasn't supposed to happen," said Overchuck, an attorney who has offices in nearby Orlando.
He fears the return of thousands of spring breakers and tourists from across the United States who in normal times are drawn to Smyrna and other county beaches.
Some were already parking cars and pitching tents right on the beach, Overchuck said.
"My family and I are bunkered in, but you're opening up condos, rentals and bringing in people from all over," he said. "Who knows if they've been taking precautions? ... I have a three-year-old. I have to put her first."
A heat wave brought thousands of Californians to the open beaches in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach on Friday despite stay-at-home orders for people across the state, and similarly large crowds are expected on Saturday.
Governor Gavin Newsom said he expected the state's beaches to see "a significant increase in volume" due to the very warm weekend, and pleaded for those who visit the shore to practice social distancing.
The move to enjoy the better weather comes after the United States on Friday recorded 36,491 new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, a record daily high, according to a Reuters tally.
More than 911,000 people in the United States have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 52,000 people have died, the tally shows.
Georgia, Oklahoma and some other states took tentative steps to reopen their economies on Friday, despite disapproval from President Donald Trump and warnings from health experts that such moves could rekindle the virus and cause more deaths.
Theo Walker, owner of Golden Anchor Tattoo in Atlanta, said he had put the question of whether to reopen to his artists and they voted yes. He has given them protective equipment and will open for business again on Saturday, after a "straightforward" first day back on Friday, although he had to turn away customers who tried to enter as a group.
"In an ideal world we would have loved to just wait at home until it's all over, but unfortunately we all have bills that are waiting, and I did not want my artists to suffer anymore," Walker said. "We all decided it was time to get back to work."


Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.