The RNLI's Chief Executive has written to the government asking to restrict access to beaches, after two people died on Cornwall's coastline.

  • Jonty speaks to the Chief Executive of the RNLI, Mark Dowie:

Despite warning the public that the roll-out of lifeguards has been paused because of the pandemic, thousands have been flocking to the region's coastal areas in recent weeks.

In the open letter, Mark Dowie said the easing of lockdown restrictions has put the charity in an "impossible situation".

He has requested the government restricts "access to the coast until we have lifeguard patrols back on beaches".

Mr Dowie's letter follows the deaths of two people in Cornwall on Bank Holiday Monday, with one other person in hospital with life-changing injuries.

Despite our warnings that there were no lifeguards on patrol this weekend, crowded beaches, hot weather and big waves meant our lifeboat crews had their busiest weekend so far this year. At least two people lost their lives. This puts the RNLI in an impossible situation. With thousands flocking to English beaches now lockdown restrictions have been eased, we must choose between keeping the public or our lifeguards safe.

Mark Dowie, RNLI Chief Executive

Mr Dowie continued, "As a lifesaving charity, the RNLI cannot stop people going to beaches - but the government can - before more lives are lost around our coast this summer."

The charity was forced to pause the roll-out of lifeguards when the outbreak started. Credit: ITV West Country

The RNLI's lifeguard service was paused in March at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite wanting to help members of the public, the charity has explained the challenges its facing to keep lifeguards safe from contracting Covid-19.

Rolling out a lifeguard service – especially in a pandemic – is not as simple as putting a lifeguard on a beach. We found out about the easing of lockdown restrictions in England at the same time and in the same way as the general public. Contrast that with shops, which were given three weeks’ notice and even car showrooms have been given 7-days warning to prepare. We have to work out how to do in-water rescues and give first aid – normally conducted at close quarters and often with people coughing up water. We have to find PPE that will work on a beach and in the water – visors and aprons are no good on a rescue board. And we have to train our lifeguards in procedures to reduce the risk of infection. All this takes time and we learnt of the lifting of restrictions at the same time as everyone else.

Mark Dowie, RNLI Chief Executive

Mr Dowie also stressed the future of the charity is at risk because of the crisis.

He said it faces a £45 million shortfall in funding by the end of the year because of the cancellation of fundraising events.

Government intervention is therefore needed, he says, to not only ensure the safety of the public, but the future of the life-saving charity.