After days of partying, including several confrontations between police and large crowds, Miami Beach officials had enough and ordered an emergency curfew from 8 pm til 6 am, forcing restaurants to stop outdoor seating entirely.

A view shows an empty Ocean Drive after an 8pm curfew was imposed by local authorities in an effort to control spring break crowds amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Miami Beach, Florida, US, March 20, 2021.
A view shows an empty Ocean Drive after an 8pm curfew was imposed by local authorities in an effort to control spring break crowds amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Miami Beach, Florida, US, March 20, 2021. (Reuters)

The Miami Beach city commission has voted to extend an 8 pm curfew and emergency powers for up to three more weeks to help control unruly and mostly maskless crowds that have converged on the party destination during spring break.

Thousands of people have packed the city's Art Deco Cultural District resulting in bedlam and lawlessness in recent days when university students typically celebrate spring break.

Mayor Dan Gelber told an emergency meeting of the city commission that all manner of out-of-town and out-of-state visitors, not just college students, were filling the streets since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on February 26 called the state an "oasis of freedom" from coronavirus restrictions. "It looked like a rock concert. All you could see was wall to wall people," City Manager Raul Aguila told the commission.

Aguila said he noticed a surge on Friday night and imposed emergency powers on Saturday to set a curfew and close streets and highways in the area.

The commission on Sunday agreed to grant Aguila the authority to ex tend the curfew and street closures for up to three more seven-day periods as needed, starting on Tuesday.

Gelber said the mass crowds gathered at a time when the surrounding county was experiencing 1,000 new infections of Covid-19 each day and with 50 to 100 people being hospitalised each day.

A military style vehicle was seen rolling down the palm-tree lined Ocean Drive on social media as outnumbered Miami Beach police officers struggled to disperse the raucous crowds Saturday. Tourists were urged to stay inside their hotels and pedestrians or vehicles were not allowed to enter the restricted area after 8 pm

The emergency order caused confusion, and defiance, in some cases. It was announced at 4 pm, just four hours before it was to go into effect. 

Videos flooded social media during that time as rebellious - but largely nonviolent - crowds refused to disperse. Some people responded by jumping on top of cars, twerking and throwing money into the air.

“Our city in this area has become a tinder,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said at a press conference Saturday. “And we can’t have a policy of simply hoping it’s not lit.”

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'Billions of dollars were lost'

The curfew comes as the iconic bar, the Clevelander South Beach, announced it was temporarily suspending all food and beverage operations until at least March 24 after crowds crammed Ocean Drive, breaking out into street fights. At another restaurant next door, tables and chairs were smashed during a fight, news outlets reported.

Local officials and businesses have struggled to balance courting tourists to boost the economy while doing so safely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Miami tourism officials say billions of dollars were lost when the pandemic first erupted last year, canceling spring break and forcing beach closures across the Sunshine State. The city's tourism arm just spent $5 million on its biggest national advertising campaign in 20 years.

At the same time, local officials banned alcohol from the beach, along with all alcohol sales after 10 pm in an effort to curb partying. The city even sent cellphone text messages to tourists warning, “Vacation Responsibly or Be Arrested.”

“Spring break in Miami Beach may be one of the great rites of passage, but only if you plan on following the rules. Otherwise, you might as well just stay home and save yourself the court costs,” the message read.

But local officials have struggled to enforce Covid ordinances. Under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pro-business stance, Florida has no statewide mask rules, limits on capacity or other such restrictions.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies