Beaches could be closed if social distancing is not observed, Matt Hancock warns

Scenes of enormous crowds on the hottest day of the year so far have prompted Health Secretary Matt Hancock to threaten the closure of the nation's beaches.

Amid a UK-wide heatwave, a reported 500,000 people descended on Dorset on Thursday, June 26 - almost the same number as the county's total population.

Photographs from Bournemouth beach showed the sand and sea swamped with people, leaving no space for social distancing, in spite of the restrictions still in place.

There were reports of crowding in Edinburgh, at the city's Portobello beach, with a mass brawl breaking out in The Meadows public park.

Government and health officials have expressed their dismay at the disregard for lockdown rules shown by the revellers, with Mr Hancock threatening to close beaches if social distancing continues to be ignored by the public.

Mr Hancock told Talk Radio that while he wanted everyone to enjoy the good weather, the British people "mustn't throw away" the hard work that's been done to combat the spread of coronavirus.

He reminded listeners that the government has the power to shut down beaches if deemed necessary: "We do have that power. I am reluctant to use it because people have had a pretty tough lockdown and I want everybody to be able to enjoy the sunshine.

"But the key is to do it with respect for the rules – stay with your household, stay a good distance from other households".

"But we do have those powers and if we see a spike in the number of cases then we will take action".

Widespread anti-social behaviour was reported, roads were gridlocked and rubbish left strewn on and around beaches. As a result, a major incident was declared in Bournemouth, with extra police brought in to manage crowds.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty also warned on Twitter that cases may spike if the public continue to flout government guidelines:

"Covid-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation. ‘If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again. Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all".