The UK’s Daily News reports that drones will patrol beaches in Australia in order to protect crowds from sharks and the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
Drones are already common tools on Australian beaches. We wrote in 2015 about drones being used to spot and track sharks. Now, in addition to monitoring beaches for sharks, drones will be used to monitor social distancing at popular beaches in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. This monitoring will be combined with new fines for gatherings over 20 people: each participant in such a gathering could be subject to $1,000 fine. This is an escalation of prior ordnances, where only the organizer was subject to a fine.
The US and many European countries are experiencing a sharp uptick in Coronavirus cases as the weather is turning colder; Australia is entering the summer season. Despite Australia’s low case count, authorities fear that travel restrictions may lead to more beach gatherings and could lead to an outbreak of the virus.
Currently, drones patrol beaches in NSW regularly as part of the shark safety program. Between normal patrol hours, drones piloted by lifeguards fly 10-15 minute flights at least twice every hour. According to Australian government statistics, 2018/19 drone trials last summer covered approximately 25,000 km and nearly 9,000 flights. The flights identified about 350 sharks and led to beach evacuations 48 times.
This summer, drones will patrol beaches to monitor social distancing, but lifeguards will work with police to enforce the rules. “Life savers are not there to police the public, that is not our job,” Director of Lifesaving Joel Wiseman said. “We’re there to ensure a safe aquatic swimming environment. We will obviously notify NSW Police if we have any suspicions or concerns around the numbers that are at the beaches.”