COASTAL car parks in East Lothian have been closed following concern over the high number of visitors who flocked to the beach over the weekend.

Children's play areas in the county have also been closed.

East Lothian Council said the decision, which takes effect immediately, was taken due to "the escalating challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak, the need to ensure appropriate social distancing between individuals and to reduce the risk of cross-infection from contact surfaces".

Monica Patterson, chief executive of East Lothian Council, said: “From the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, we have been clear about the need to follow national health and government advice.

“Although we appreciate that the coastal car parks are popular with those who enjoy our fantastic local beaches – particularly during good weather – there are concerns about this presenting difficulty for people following social distancing advice at busy times.

"It’s essential that people avoid gatherings at this time and keep two metres away from other people.

"Advice against non-essential travel is also in place.

“Due to the risk of cross-infection from contact surfaces, we have also reluctantly made the decision to temporarily close the council’s children’s play areas. This relates specifically to areas with play equipment rather than larger parks/open spaces which have play areas within them.

“While we appreciate people will be disappointed, we believe these decisions are in the best interests of everyone’s health and wellbeing as we respond to the unprecedented challenges presented by this outbreak.”

The closure also applies to the toilet and showering facilities at the car parks.

The council is also urging people not to travel to access open space and coastal areas outwith the town or village they reside in, as this could speed up the spread of the virus area to area.

The council stated: "Social distancing is key. Everyone should avoid congregating in large groups and stay at least two metres apart from others at all times.

"We would urge young people and their parents/carers to be conscious of this.

"We would also remind residents that enjoyleisure facilities throughout East Lothian are currently closed – from today this will include all 3G pitches that are fenced off."

Images of packed car parks with ice cream vans open for business had appeared across social media at the weekend, with one tractor driver sharing a video of themselves driving up a lane leading to one car park, which was lined with cars parked nose to tail.

The video (see below), which was shot at Tyninghame beach, between North Berwick and Dunbar, shows a queue of cars trying to park as others line both sides of the narrow lane after the 45-space car park filled up.

At Gullane, cars lined the parking area with an ice-cream van selling to families who had turned up and in popular beach town North Berwick it was claimed people were queuing “cheek to jowl” at ice-cream shops.

The Government's current advice during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis is to practise "social distancing", which involves keeping a distance of at least two metres from anyone other than those you live with.

However, going for walks and exercising is still allowed as long as the two-metre distance from others is kept.

The footage of the packed car parks and shops led to two councillors calling for the beach car parks to be closed.

Conservative Councillor Craig Hoy called for the local authority to close or restrict car parking at the beaches.

And SNP Group leader Councillor Stuart Currie said he had written to the council asking for the coastal car parks to be shut down.

Mr Currie said: “We cannot go on allowing mass gatherings like this in the midst of the current public health emergency.”

However, some people who attended the beaches hit back on social media, pointing out the large size of the beaches and insisting that people were complying with the Government’s social distancing advice by keeping two metres away from others while visiting the scenic coast and getting exercise.

One said on Facebook: “It wasn’t mass gatherings at that beach, there was literally no one near anyone.”

Another added: “Wide open spaces like a beach are a great place to get fresh air and exercise while also adhering to social distancing rules, exactly as the Government and chief medical officer advises.”

It was also suggested that it was much easier to keep two metres away from others on a beach than in a shop.

It is understood that the council faces a practicle issue about physically closing the car parks, which do not have barriers.

East Lothian Council scrapped plans to introduce barriers when it started charging people to use the coastal car parks five years ago because of problems allowing blue badge holders free access.