As Spain's beaches fill up, a seaside resort sends in the drones

A drone is operated to monitor the capacity to prevent overcrowding at beaches in Sitges, Spain, July 15, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

SITGES, Spain, July 15 - With a summer heatwave sending hordes of people to the beach, authorities in the northeastern Spanish seaside town of Sitges are trialling the use of drones to monitor crowds in real-time and counter a rapid rise in Covid-19 contagion.

A man operates a drone to monitor the capacity to prevent overcrowding at beaches in Sitges, Spain, July 15, 2021. 
PHOTO: Reuters
A man operates a drone to monitor the capacity to prevent overcrowding at beaches in Sitges, Spain, July 15, 2021. 
PHOTO: Reuters

"It's a pioneering system," said Ricardo Monje, a drone operator with the project's developer Annunzia ES. "We can take photos, pass them through some software and with the software we can count how many people are on the beach."

A handout photo. A drone image shows the count of people on the beach as capacity is monitored to prevent overcrowding amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, in Sitges, Spain, July 15, 2021. Picture taken with a drone.
PHOTO: Reuters via Ajuntament de Sitges

The pilot project will happen through Aug. 22 and should allow authorities to react faster to crowds forming along Sitges' 18 kilometres of beach, the town hall said.

"If we see the beach is very crowded we can pass that information on to the beach monitors who will make checks and ensure people are keeping their distance," said local official Guillem Escola.

A person wearing a yellow vest advises beach goers after drones monitored the capacity to prevent overcrowding at beaches in Sitges, Spain, July 15, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

"If people don't take notice, then we send in the police."

The town hall said the project would adhere to all data-protection laws and ensure any images captured of people would remain anonymous, but some local residents harbour concerns.

"I think it's a good idea but they must communicate with the population and identify the drone because otherwise it's an intervention in our civil liberties," said Jimmy Burns, an Anglo-Spanish journalist and writer who lives in Sitges.

Police in Madrid have already been using drones equipped with spotlights and loudspeakers to locate and break up outdoor parties.

Spurred on by the highly contagious Delta variant and a sharp increase in socialising among young people, Spain's Covid-19 incidence has more than tripled in the past two weeks.

Regional authorities in Catalonia, which has Spain's highest 14-day infection rate of 1,068 cases per 100,000 people, more than double the national average, said on Wednesday they would impose a curfew on 158 municipalities, including Sitges.

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