Miami Beach was under curfew and a state of emergency after police fired pepperballs to disperse crowds of revelers who defied Covid safety guidelines on Saturday night.
Outdoor dining places have been suspended and roads have been closed in parts of the city, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States for the annual “school break” vacation. Defying the curfew, hundreds of people poured into the streets of Miami Beach on Saturday night, prompting police to take aggressive action to disperse the crowds.
“Frankly, I am concerned that the behavior is becoming more difficult to manage,” Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements said at a press conference on Saturday. “All we are focusing on now is public safety.”
Miami Beach and other Florida cities had earlier reported crowds of tourists arriving for spring break, with students from over 200 schools expected to take to the state’s beaches.
Some US cities have moved to ease Covid requirements as the US ramps up vaccination efforts, raising fears of a new wave of infections due to the spread of coronavirus variants.
The Miami curfew came days after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, suggested the state would ease Covid-19 restrictions further. Last week DeSantis issued an executive order waiver of fines implemented by local governments over the past year for pandemic-related offenses, going beyond any Covid-19-related enforcement or orders made by the state.
DeSantis is considered a rising star in the Republican Party, in part because of his handling of the pandemic. Florida has a large population of seniors who were not as badly affected by the pandemic as expected in early 2020.
“We are going in the right direction,” he said at a press conference on Thursday. “We have no lockdowns. No warrant in Florida. “
Tourism is an important part of Florida’s economy, contributing billions of dollars in tax revenue. But the number of visitors fell to 86.7 million in 2020, down 34% from the previous year, according to state statistics. And hotel bookings remain down about 25% from 2019 at the end of February.
Despite the increasing availability of Covid-19 vaccines across the country, people are still dying. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday reported 62 deaths in the state. Arizona and Iowa reported 12 and two deaths respectively over the weekend, the Associated Press reported on Sunday.
Also on Saturday, New York reported the first resident state case of Covid-19 variant P.1, a type first detected in Brazil. Patient is from Brooklyn, over 90, with no travel history, at Cuomo’s office mentionned.
Florida reported no deaths from Covid-19 on March 19, the most recent date available, compared to 60 deaths reported on March 6. The state reported 5,040 cases on March 19, up from 4,070 on March 6.