NORTH East MPs have added their voice to ministers, NHS workers and the police urging people to stay as close to home as possible when exercising or going on their daily walk.

The Home Secretary has defended the way police have handed out fines for lockdown breaches, warning that officers “will not hesitate” to take action.

Priti Patel said the increasing number of new Covid-19 cases proved there was a need for “strong enforcement” in cases where people were clearly breaking the rules.

Police tactics have come in for scrutiny after Derbyshire Police handed out £200 fines to two women who drove separately to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot situated around five miles from their homes.

Cleveland Police said: "The guidance urges people to ‘stay local’, this is defined in the guidance as ‘being limited to your village, town or area of city.'

"Cleveland Police continues with the approach of the four Es: engage, explain, encourage and where appropriate, enforcement.”

Since Christmas Eve, Cleveland Police have attended 880 reports of Covid related incidents.

Five fixed penalties have been issued by the Force since Christmas Eve. These fines were all for house parties, two of these were issued to the same host for holding two parties on two separate evenings.

Since September 22, Cleveland Police has issued 106 warnings for Covid related incidents.

Stanley Police said: "Over the past few days Stanley Police have received a large number of calls in relation to groups of people gathering outdoors and not adhering to social distancing measures or remaining in family bubbles.

"Attending these calls is affecting Police ability to attend other emergency calls across the area. We would remind people to please only travel if essential and if venturing out for exercise, to remain within family bubbles. We recognise it is tough times but we ask for everyone to remain mindful; keeping themselves and those they love safe."

Peter Gibson MP for Darlington, said: "My personal view is that people should exercise a level of common sense about what is local to them. Driving a considerable distance to exercise is not local.

"Every journey you undertake, the further you travel is a risk that the virus is being spread.

"I think it's down to your particular location. If you live in the middle of the city with no green spaces then it is maybe necessary for you to travel a short distance.

"But we don't have that problem here in Darlington. We are blessed with an abundance of green spaces, I can't see any need for people in Darlington to travel."

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell said he backed a “more robust” approach to enforcing lockdown restrictions where necessary.

He said: “I’ve spoken to senior members of Durham police in the last two days and support their stance fully. I think they had the right approach in the beginning but there will be a more robust approach to those that had repeatedly flouted the rules.

“One of the biggest problems we have is people mixing at home, having parties. That is just not the right thing to do.

“Stay home, but not with people outside your household or bubble. It is clear. If you go out, it is important to keep mixing to an absolute, absolute minimum.”

On travelling to exercise, he said: “If at all possible people should stay at home. In most of our areas, like in my constituency, there is very little need to go very far at all for daily exercise.

“If people do feel they need to drive somewhere, they should consider what they find when they get there. If someone pulls up at Hardwick Park, at Sedgefield, and the car park is full they should think about whether it is safe.

“If you go somewhere and it doesn’t look safe, there are too many people and not enough space to stay safe, then turn around, go elsewhere, come back at a quiet time or go home.

“It is really important people make good decisions.”

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust have also urged people to stick to the guidelines.

A senior trust manager emotionally appealed to the Tees Valley to stay home and save lives, after local cases of Covid-19 increased and are still increasing, especially in Hartlepool.

Gary Wright, Deputy Chief People Officer for the Trust, said: “It would be easy to point to the obvious from my perspective and talk about the pressures our organisation is facing from winter and Covid-19.

“As a resident in the town, a former Manor pupil and passionate Hartlepudlian – it’s a personal plea from me to drive down the infection rates. My own wife is a nurse, and we are both so very aware of the impact Covid-19 is having on our own family. I would implore people across the town to stick to the guidelines. Let’s get through this, and start to build a future that is befitting to the town – one of hope and aspiration.

“By supporting this lockdown now, we can get to the end point sooner. But first, stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

North Yorkshire partner agencies also issued a plea for residents to think twice before they step outside their door.

Louise Wallace, North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health, said: “The North Yorkshire rate yesterday was 444 per 100,000 of the population when at the beginning of last week it was 319 per 100,000 and rates in Richmondshire and Craven have now gone above 500 with rates in Harrogate also climbing rapidly today.

“We must stick to the rules, stay home and protect the NHS which is becoming overwhelmed in the parts of the south and London and increasingly under pressure in parts of North Yorkshire. The rising number of Covid-19 cases is putting hospitals across the region under pressure during what would already be the busiest time of year, even under normal circumstances.

“So if you are thinking of going out and getting fresh air and exercise this weekend, which is important for keeping healthy, think twice before you get in the car and travel miles unnecessarily.

“Use the amenities in your neighbourhood as much as you can. Think local, maintain a social distance, wash hands regularly and use a face covering in shops and and busy outdoor spaces.”