As the government warns that coronavirus marshals will be a common sight on UK streets for the foreseeable future, local councils have already engaged staff to monitor restaurants and bars, on the lookout for illegal lock-ins and late-night drinkers.
Boris Johnson has warned that COVID-secure compliance officers are being employed to enforce social distancing rules to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
And as a 10pm curfew on the hospitality came into force on Thursday City of Westminster inspectors were out in force peering through pub windows on the lookout for anyone breaching the rules.
Venues and business owners could face fines of up to £10,000 if they do not abide by the curfew, which could be in place for up to six months, as could members of the public who flout the ‘Rule of Six’ and other restrictions.
In Cornwall, street marshals were introduced in Camborne, Helston, Newquay, Redruth, St Austell, St Ives and Truro in July.
The local council said they "give friendly help and guidance to those visiting and working" in the area.
Leeds City Council introduced six night marshals "who were in place over four weeks and who did not have any enforcement powers". It was announced on Friday though that the city was facing a full local lockdown.
Who are COVID marshals?
Marshals can either be volunteers or existing members of council staff.
The PM said: “We will boost the local enforcement capacity of local authorities by introducing COVID-secure marshals to help ensure social distancing in town and city centres, and by setting up a register of environmental health officers that local authorities can draw upon for support.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps also said that street wardens who patrol local town centres “would be helpful to support this activity”.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said "any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded", but there has been no funding announced by government.
What powers do they have?
The government has still to set out exact details of what marshals will do, and says those decisions will be a matter for local authorities.
In areas where marshals have already been introduced, they have handed out hand sanitiser and face coverings, answered questions and explained social distancing guidelines to members of the public.
Marshals do not have the power to enforce social distancing or to issue fines to anyone who breaks the rules, but the government says they can call the police if enforcement action is needed.
Will they be paid?
The government has not set out details of what the role will pay, but some reports suggest they could receive around £30,000 a year.
What has the reaction been to the announcement?
Social media users were quick to mock the announcement, with some describing them as sounding like the “worst sort of busybodies”.
Madeleine Stone, the legal officer for privacy and civil liberties campaigners Big Brother Watch, said that COVID marshals reporting on neighbourhoods “undermines the community spirit that has been critical during the pandemic”.
Covid Marshals are just going to be the grown up version of school corridor monitors aren't they. pic.twitter.com/M42GxleAAZ
— Tom Harwood (@tomhfh) September 10, 2020
She told Yahoo News UK: “We’ve seen serious examples of police over-stepping the law already. The last thing we need now is marshals patrolling towns and cities to monitor and police us without any legal authority.
“This is an excessive and authoritarian approach to public health."
A spokesperson from the human rights group Liberty told Yahoo News UK that they “will be keeping an eye on the restrictions”.
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