COUNCIL chiefs have made a passionate plea for visitors and second home owners to stay away from tourist hotspots in Dorset to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Dorset Council has issued a stern warning after pictures emerged over the weekend of people gathering in large numbers on the coast and not heeding advice about social distancing. Car parks along the coast were full on Sunday as people were keen to get outdoors.

It comes as the council prepares to close its country parks and open spaces.

Essential travel, the Department for Health and Social Care said, “does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays.”

Central government has also indicated that if people continue to ignore social-distancing advice then more stringent measures may be introduced, including a total lockdown on social movement.

Cllr Tony Alford, Dorset Council Portfolio Holder for Customer, Community and Regulatory services, said: “Over the weekend, we’ve seen pictures of people gathering in large numbers at West Bay, on our beach fronts and our coastal paths, which we find very worrying. Not only were these people gathering in groups but clearly the two-meter distance advice was not being heeded.

“Dorset is a rural county and any additional visitors to Dorset during the pandemic are likely to put even more pressure on our NHS and other essential public services, not to mention supermarkets which are already facing challenges maintaining social-distancing rules.

“I strongly urge people to stay at home during this unprecedented period of uncertainty. It’s so important that we listen to the Government’s advice.”

Cllr Alford added: “We need everyone to help us stop the spread of coronavirus by staying at home and not visiting Dorset’s tourist hotspots for the time being. This particularly applies to day-trippers and second-home owners, who might wish to come to Dorset to isolate themselves.

“We must treat the advice of experts seriously. The impending closure of our country parks will, we believe, help stop the spread of this virus."

Fresh air and exercise is good for people’s mental and physical health, but the advice is that if you go outside for a walk or exercise, you must observe the safe two-metre distance from others.

Cllr Gary Suttle, the council’s portfolio holder for economic growth and skills, said: “We are aware that the travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus is having a damaging effect on tourism and hospitality businesses in Dorset. We know that businesses are suffering, doors are closing, and redundancies are already being made.

“We want to reassure businesses that we are working with Government and through our partners locally, to help businesses get urgent access to financial help and other packages of support. Dorset Council website is being constantly updated with information specifically for businesses and I would encourage anyone with concerns or questions to have a look at those pages.

“Welcoming visitors back to Dorset will play a key part in our economic recovery but for now, we must protect Dorset’s NHS and essential front-line services by asking visitors to stay away.”