If you are hoping to head to any of the nation’s beaches to cool off any time soon, there is a chance you can be turned back by police if those beaches are deemed as ‘full.’
This according to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, who told Guardian Media yesterday that his officers will now be out in full force to ensure that beaches on both islands do not become overcrowded.
Griffith said after the ‘fiasco’ on Tyrico Bay on January 10, where police had to shut down an overcrowded beach party, he decided to enforce strict measures to control the number of people on beaches at any one time.
Those measures were put into place yesterday at Maracas Bay, Tyrico Bay and Las Cuevas, with dozens of police officers on patrol. Around 1 pm, Maracas Bay seemed very populated, with large groups of people gathered under umbrellas on the shoreline. At Tyrico Bay though, three police ‘No Parking’ signs were placed at the entrance to the beach and officers stationed there told hopeful beachgoers they needed to “park elsewhere” and walk to the beach.
After the one car park facility at the nearby Maracas Bay was filled, however, police turned away beachgoers from the venue.
In an interview on the activity, Griffith said while the beaches remain open the police had the power to shut them down in the same way they can shut down overcrowded business places under the COVID-19 health protocols.
“It’s not that the police shut down or closed beaches but it makes very little sense for us to keep public beaches open for any number of people to go on the beaches at any one time,” Griffith said.
“Obviously, if it reaches a point where the numbers far exceed what the police can control, or it becomes something that can be a concern pertaining to the public health regulations, this is what we spoke about when we said police have the authorisation to shut down supermarkets or banks if we see there is a concern.”
The current public health regulations state that the public can be on beaches between 6 am and 6 pm only. Section 3:1 also states “During the period specified in regulation 17, a person shall not, without reasonable justification–(a) be found at any public place where the number of persons gathered, at any time, exceeds ten.”
Griffith said he hopes the public will understand the rationale behind the action being taken by police but said the public often needs to be protected from themselves.
“I just want persons to understand what the police are doing. We are not here to make life difficult, we are here to make sure people adhere to the regulations and also to look after the health and safety of citizens. So we do apologise for this but there are regulations, this cannot continue because we have been getting these reports and concerns from beaches.”
He said the beach crowd regulation exercises will be ongoing for the foreseeable future until or unless the Public Heath Regulations are amended. He said to allow the number of people going to the beaches to remain unregulated means police may be faced with situations where crowds are too large to manage.
One hopeful beachgoer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Guardian Media he left his home in South Trinidad to visit Tyrico Bay and was saddened at being turned away.
“They told us that the car park is filled, the place is crowded, so everybody is trying to see if they can find a park somewhere. I agree that they have to control the crowd because we are concerned about this COVID-19 but after coming from South, you feel kind of sad to know that you can’t do anything,” the man said.
He suggested that some sort of schedule should be posted online to avoid the public from being turned away after driving hours to get to the beach.
“That might work out to be much better by informing people that there is a schedule, so people could—if you have to go on the internet and say, ok, I am coming on the beach today so we know 1,000 and we work with 1,000 and people would know.”
Beachgoer Sanchez Wright, however, said he was in full agreement with the Police Commissioner.
Wright said he does not often visit the beaches but his group was taking every precaution to keep themselves safe.
“I think it’s a great idea because we as Trinidadians not taking it serious enough to take the measures, the precautions needed to stop the spread and what the Police Commissioner has said and what he intends to do, I think it’s a great idea,” Wright said.
Darren Plaza, who sells cotton candy on the beach, said the new limitations would affect his business as fewer people meant fewer sales for him.
“I will be losing money, I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills the way I hoped to…It was pressure for me to get money to take care of my family during the strict lockdowns because I could not come to the beach to sell anything,” Plaza said.
He said he has a baby on the way so he may need to try to find a steady job instead of working as a vendor.
There were also roadblocks set up on the route to the three North Coast beaches yesterday, causing long delays and making the journey to the sites a little more frustrating than usual.
Griffith said roadblocks and DUI exercises will also be carried out on a regular basis.