‘Reopen California’ protests urge end to pandemic restrictions

© AFP Frederic J. BROWN
AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) – Protesters marched in several cities across California on Friday demanding the easing of restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak and denouncing Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to shut down some beaches.

The protests were taking place in at least 11 cities, including the capital Sacramento as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Some of the demonstrators waved American flags and carried signs that read “Freedom is Essential,” “Open Our Churches” or “Gruesome Newsom,” while voicing anger at stay-at-home rules put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

Most of the protesters did not wear any face coverings or follow social distancing guidelines.

In Huntington Beach, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Los Angeles, some 700 people rallied downtown to denounce Newsom’s order to shut local beaches from Friday in order to avoid a repeat of last weekend when crowds flocked to the shoreline.

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” protestor Monica Beilhard said, referring to the beach shutdown.

“It was uncalled for, unnecessary and people out here are making that known,” she added. “And we’re also very much saying enough is enough, we have the right to work… and it’s time for the governor to allow the healthy to be able to get back to business.”

Officials in Huntington Beach and nearby towns have vowed to fight the beach closure order by taking the matter to court on grounds it is unconstitutional.

“We believe the governor’s order is unconstitutional, vague and ambiguous,” said Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates. “He doesn’t have a rational basis for this. What he seeks is a remedy to something that wasn’t a problem in the first place.”

Newsom, who like other governors across the country is facing mounting pressure to lift restrictions, especially as the weather warms up, has vowed not to bow to pressure and insists that his order was driven by public health concerns.

He told journalists at his Friday news conference that he empathized with protesters but urged them to continue to obey the stay-at-home order.

He also appealed to them to wear masks and practice social distancing while demonstrating.

“This disease doesn’t know if you’re a protester — Democrat, Republican, or if you support the election of one candidate or the ouster of another,” he said. “It just knows one thing, and that is its host.

“Just protect yourself, protect your family… and the people you’re protesting with.”

California has registered more than 59,000 cases of coronavirus so far with 2,034 deaths, a fatality rate deemed modest given it is the most populous state in the country with nearly 40 million people.

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