TOURISTS and second-home owners have been urged to stay away from the Dorset.

The unprecedented plea, from Dorset Council was made before the government put the country into lockdown.

It came after a sunny weekend saw hundreds of people congregating on beaches, proms and other well-known tourist attractions ­– despite, at that time, the government advice was to avoid doing so.

Now the council will close its country parks and open spaces, in line with a similar move taken by the National Trust at the weekend.

Cllr Tony Alford, Dorset Council portfolio holder for customer, community and regulatory services, said: “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."

Before Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that police will be enforcing the new measures, South Dorset MP Richard Drax had raised his concerns about the weekend's mass gatherings in Dorset.

Now a host of holiday parks across the UK have confirmed their closure.

Parkdean Resort, which has parks in Dorset, has closed down its 67 UK resorts until May 1.

The company's chief executive, Steve Richards, said: "We are very sorry to the many holiday makers who were hoping to spend their Easter break with us, but I hope they understand why.

“As our parks are based in areas that rely on tourism, I would therefore like to reassure anyone working for Parkdean Resorts, and the communities they live in, that no one will be made redundant as a result of coronavirus, and we will be paying 100 per cent salary."

Meanwhile, Cllr Alford 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-metre 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 is so important that we listen to the government’s advice.”

The council says it is keen to encourage people to get outside if they can safely do so.

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, they say.

Cllr Gary Suttle, 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.”