HUNDREDS of people gathered on the seafront to watch open water swimmers with the crowds accused of a “distinct lack of social distancing.”

Witnesses claim to have seen up to 300 people standing along Southend seafront watching groups of open water swimmers on Monday morning.

But major concerns have been raised that families were mixing to watch friends and relatives take part, with social distancing guidelines ignored as Southend battles rising cases.

Senior councillors have again urged families to stick to the Tier 4 guidelines.

Crowds were regularly seen gathered on the seafront during the summer, but bosses insist there was “no evidence” to suggest it impacted

Daniel Cowan, Labour councillor of the St Laurence ward, has had daily reports of crowded parks and beaches since Boxing Day.

He said: “I’m really concerned.

“People have come to me and been worried about the busy seafront. Parks have been just as bad too.

“It’s not impossible to catch it outside, especially with this new strain. There’s no excuse for not social distancing on a beach.

“If you’re standing close to someone who has it, and you’re not wearing a mask, the likelihood is that you’ll catch it.

“There’s a huge amount of asymptomatic transmission.

“The vast majority of people are protecting themselves and others, but it’s not everyone.

“We don’t need to wear a mask 24/7, but when you’re around others, please wear one.”

A Shoebury couple, who were walking along Chalkwell promenade when they saw the crowds at their peak, told the Echo there was a lack of social distancing.

They said: “Crowds like this have been building for some weeks now. There must have been nearly 300 down there.

“There wasn’t any police or council officers down there. It just made me frustrated, especially after our Christmas plans were cancelled.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.I just don’t think the message is sinking in, or they’ve forgotten about the pandemic.”

Ian Gilbert, the leader of Southend Council, insisted the pressure on the NHS is the biggest risk right now and urged people to follow rules.

He said: “It’s a perception issue.

“The risk is less outside but it doesn’t mean you cant’ catch it.

“The council is doing everything it can to get the message out there. Please stay apart.There wasn’t evidence to suggest the summer crowds had an impact on our cases.”