I CAN’T think of anywhere I would least like to be right now than a crowded beach.

What is it about Brits and the beach? The first inkling of sunshine and they’re flocking like sheep to the coast; shedding clothes and basking within spitting distance of each other.

Overcrowded beaches make me queasy at the best of times. All that searing heat and no shade...sweaty human flesh slowly burning in the sun...standing around awkwardly in the cloudy sea, covered with a slimy film of suncream and goodness knows what else.

Call me over-cautious, but when there’s a virus so deadly it has, in this country alone, killed tens of thousands of people in a few weeks - and is still claiming lives - isn’t it a bit unwise for hundreds of strangers to cram together like sardines onto beaches and beauty spots? Watching the footage of people doing just that over the weekend, you’d think lockdown had never happened.

I thought at first the unsettling image of people herded together at Durdle Door was fake news. Turned out it was an attempt to restore some kind of order to the chaotic Dorset beach so that air ambulances could rescue three funsters who’d leapt off cliffs into the sea. Because nothing says ‘lockdown ease’ more than getting your Durdle Door kicks while jeered on by clusters of sunseekers.

It goes without saying that there was a staggering amount of litter left on that beach. Beauty spots in our district too were left with piles of rubbish everywhere - including needles, human excrement and a used tampon. Aren’t people lovely?

I guess the kind of folk who casually ignore public health advice to gather in crowded open spaces, when we’re still technically in lockdown, are pretty much the kind who leave their rubbish strewn across beaches, riversides, woodlands and waterfalls, vaguely assuming, if they give it any thought at all, that litter elves will pop along and clear it all up.

What’s particularly galling is that many of these people will have been banging saucepans for the NHS up and down their streets for the past 10 weeks, and sticking rainbow signs in their living-room windows. I think what NHS workers would probably prefer is for people to not indulge themselves with mass get-togethers, risking a second wave of Covid just because the sun is shining and they want to eat burgers on the sand and top up their lockdown tans.

Of course the Government has much to answer for. There’s no effective test and trace system in place. Restrictions have been lifted far too quickly. Travel should have been limited to local journeys unless for business. The Association of Directors of Public Health says moves such as allowing up to six people to meet outdoors are “not supported by the science”. Who knows what impact this premature lockdown easing will have on the R value? And let’s not even go to Barnard Castle...

But we, the public, also have a responsibility to deal with this situation in a way that doesn’t risk more infections and deaths. The world has to keep turning, and we have to ‘transition’, but surely to a safer Covid level. Infection remains worryingly high, with new cases daily. Frontline medics are still risking their lives to treat the infected. We can’t be complacent, because when it comes to pandemics, complacency hasn’t ended well in the past.

It’s a fine balancing act, and as grown-ups we need to be sensible. But, as the scenes on beaches and beauty spots last weekend showed, a large portion of the public has quickly forgotten that social distancing is even a thing. Shame on them.