RESIDENTS of Dales villages and towns popular with visitors are hoping people will heed the Prime Minister’s strong words to stay at home and not risk spreading the potentially fatal coronavirus.

Last weekend saw huge numbers of people crowding into Malham, Settle, Ingleton and Grassington, filling the car parks and prompting villagers to appeal to visitors to stay at home, with some putting up signs.

Since then, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, issued clear new instructions, telling people to stay at home apart from buying essentials, for medical need or to travel to and from work, for those unable to work from home.

He also said people were allowed to leave the house to exercise, but only once a day and either alone, or with family members.

Following Mr Johnson’s televised address to the nation on Monday, Skipton MP Julian Smith said: “I fully support the Prime Minister’s decision to instruct people to stay at home. I will support any measure to ensure this happens and to protect the NHS and lives.”

David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said many people had ‘blatantly ignored’ Government advice over social distancing.

“Last weekend proved extremely difficult," he said.

"There were many parts of the national park where the Government’s medical advice regarding social isolation was blatantly ignored, and this seemed to be a pattern of behaviour replicated in many areas of the country.

“We fully recognise the importance of the outdoors with regard to the nation’s health and well-being, but at this stage of the pandemic, our advice is that people should stay home, within their own communities, and not to make unnecessary journeys to the national park. This will help protect the NHS and ultimately save lives.”

Neil Heseltine, Malhamdale farmer and member of the national park, said all of the authority’s car parks would be closed, along with the toilets and offices.

He added: “With regard to public rights of way, the government, at this stage, are keen to keep them open to allow local people - including those on the fringes of the national park, such as Gargrave, Settle and Hellifield, to use them as part of their single daily exercise, however the intention is for people to walk to them, not to drive and walk.”

Dr Meg Crossley, who lives in Malham, appealed to people to act sensibly. She said: “Your local doctors and nurses and all their supporting teams of staff are working really hard to prepare for a huge surge in numbers of really sick people.

“We are training staff, building walls, increasing our working hours and coming back to work from retirement. But if we are going to limit the numbers of people who die we need your help. Going for a walk is great but you need to go somewhere quiet. Hundreds of people parking next to each other, using the public toilets, eating near each other in the village centre risks spreading the virus faster. We need time to prepare to take care of you and your family. We need that ‘surge’ to be slow and steady. Please consider carefully the implication of coming to Malham or encouraging others to come.”