Drones monitoring Spanish beaches during heatwave

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With a summer heatwave sending hordes of people to the beach, authorities in north-eastern Spanish seaside town Sitges are trialling drones to monitor crowds in real-time and counter a rapid rise in COVID-19 contagion.

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

The pilot project will run through to August 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 crowded we can pass information to beach monitors who will check and ensure people keep their distance,” said local official Guillem Escola.

“If people don’t take notice, we send in the police.”

The town hall said the project would adhere to all data-protection laws and ensure any images captured 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 in Sitges.

Police in Madrid use 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 more than tripled in the past two weeks.

Regional authorities in Catalonia, which has Spain’s highest 14-day infection rate of 1, 68 cases per 100 000 people, more than double the national average, said on Wednesday they are imposing a curfew on 158 municipalities including Sitges.