It might sound like a job no one would want – but the first of Boris’s much derided ‘Covid marshals’ are already up and running in towns across the UK, and insist they are relishing their new roles.
In his downbeat address to the nation last night, the PM announced his new army of marshals, who will be out in force to catch anyone breaking the rules.
The PM warned the ‘Covid secure’ marshals will check up on pubs and restaurants and hand out fines if social distancing rules are not being followed.
Those in the role will be recruited by councils to step up enforcement, patrolling town centres, parks, shopping centres and train stations issuing advice and encouraging groups to break up.
But there is confusion on how wide their remit will be as critics ask why they will have the power to break up groups of people but will then have to call the police to make arrests.
They will break up groups of more than six in town centres and alert police if fines need to be handed out.
Police will be asked to break up house parties and groups of more than six in parks, town centres and pubs. Those refusing to move on will face fines of £100.
The marshals helping to keep Cornwall’s high streets Covid-safe
Marshals are already a presence on Cornwall’s streets, ensuring people are ‘respecting social distancing.’
Among a string of measures announced by Boris Johnson last night:
- Mr Johnson revealed ambitious ‘moonshot’ plans for mass testing;
- Councils were encouraged to recruit the ‘Covid marshals’, who will patrol town centres issuing advice and encouraging groups to break up;
- Pubs and restaurants will face £1,000 fines if they fail to collect the contact details of all customers;
- Plans to allow Premier League matches to be held with 25 per cent capacity crowds from next month were put on hold;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged families not to let grandparents look after their grandchildren;
- Travellers were warned they could be barred from flights if they fail to fill in a Government contact form in advance;
- Officials were ordered to draw up a list of newly-qualified and former environmental health officers who could be drafted in to help councils crack down on businesses breaking the rules;
- Professor Whitty hinted that more school closures could happen if infections among children rise.
So what powers WILL Boris’s army of Covid Secure Marshals have?
Those breaking the rules can expect a £100 fine from police, which will then double on each repeat offence up to £3,200, with the Covid marshals also introduced in a bid to improve the enforcement capacity of local authorities.
Some councils already have marshals who go to busy areas and give advice if people are not social distancing.
They also explain the rules, such as wearing a face mask on public transport.
They cannot fine people but they can alert the police. The move addresses concerns that police were struggling to enforce social-distancing rules because they applied differently in various circumstances.
Police have the power to arrest rule-breakers if needed, as well as fining them £100, which will then double on each repeat offence up to £3,200.
The Local Government Association welcomed the move, but called for more clarity on the role of marshals, while social media users suggested the idea would create an army of power-hungry snoopers.
Recently retired environmental health officers will also be drafted in to enforce legislation at pubs and restaurants.
The marshals will help enforce social-distancing rules and ensure contact details of all customers are collected for the test and trace system.
They will will patrol parks, shopping centres, train stations and other areas where groups of people are likely to gather in larger numbers, Boris Johnson said at Wednesday’s press conference.
One marshal called Dan said he has been enjoying providing reassurance to some of Camborne’s older residents and getting to know local businesses in the process.
‘So far, most visitors have been really co-operative and do their best to follow the guidelines and respect social distancing,’ he said.
‘I especially like helping reassure some of our older residents. I’ve got to know the local businesses and it’s great to know they’re all really keen to do what they can to make their customers and staff feel comfortable.’
Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board said: ‘Councils continue to work tirelessly to support communities through this pandemic and to ensure they are prepared for the threat of a potential second wave.
‘Most hospitality businesses are working hard, supported by councils, to ensure they comply with COVID-19 rules. However, some premises are not collecting contact details of customers so they can be reached in the event of a local outbreak.
‘This is clearly a danger to communities and puts people at risk of infection, so it is good that this will become mandatory as councils have called for.
‘While most businesses are implementing the necessary measures to protect people’s safety, we are pleased the Government has also acted on LGA calls for councils to have powers to take action when rules are being flouted.
‘These measures will mean they can act quickly and proactively in cracking down on places that flout COVID-19 guidance, to prevent problems in the first place instead of only being able to act when it is too late.
‘We need to quickly see further detail on how the Government’s COVID-19 Secure Marshal scheme is intended to work, and any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded.
‘Given the shortage of environmental health officers, it is positive that the Government has committed to a register of EHOs, and the LGA will continue discussions to take this forward.’
The new marshals work alongside Cornwall Council’s public protection officers who have been giving support and advice to businesses on reopening safely in towns and villages across Cornwall
Asked for further details on the introduction of marshals to help ensure social distancing in town and city centres, a spokesman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ‘We are encouraging the introduction of Covid-secure marshals to help support our high streets and public spaces, making sure that people feel safe to enjoy them.
‘Some areas of the country have already introduced marshals to support the public in following the guidelines in a friendly way and we will be working with local authorities to see where else they are needed. We will be setting out further details in due course.’
The Government said where marshals have already been introduced, they have had responsibilities including ‘directing pedestrians, providing information, cleaning touchpoints, preventing mixing between groups and being a point of contact for information on government guidelines’.
Councillor Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘We need to quickly see further detail on how the Government’s Covid-19-secure marshal scheme is intended to work, and any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded.’
Marshals are already a presence on Cornwall’s streets, ensuring people are ‘respecting social distancing.’
The new marshals work alongside Cornwall Council’s public protection officers who have been giving support and advice to businesses on reopening safely in towns and villages across Cornwall.
Tim Dwelly, Cornwall Council’s portfolio holder for the economy, said: ‘It’s good to see people out and about in our towns again.
‘Many of our high streets look very different because of the Covid-safe measures that have been put in place such as one-way signage on pavements and reminders to follow social distancing. This has been done so people can visit and work there with confidence.
‘The presence of these marshals and our public protection officers play a hugely valuable role in giving a bit of extra help where needed.
‘You can be assured that your safety is top-of-mind at all times, so do say a friendly ‘hi’ (dydh da) when you see them.
‘The worst sort of busybodies!’ Plan for ‘Covid-secure marshals’ who will enforce rules on social gatherings sparks fears of an army of power-hungry snoopers
Social media users were quick to ridiculed the idea of marshals, describing them as sounding like ‘the worst sort of busybodies’.
In a series of memes, users compared the marshals to popular bumbling TV characters such as Keith Lard from Phoenix Nights, The Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum and Gareth Keenan from The Office.
In a series of memes, social media users compared the Covid marshals to popular bumbling TV characters such as Keith Lard from Phoenix Nights
Gareth Keenan, assistant to the regional manager in The Office, was also suggested as someone who the marshals could be modelled on
Bumbling policeman Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons was another character referenced by mocking social media users
Social media users suggested Special Officer Doofy from Scary Movie would be fit for the job
Others referenced Boris Johnson’s notorious rugby tackle in a charity football match
David Walliams’ character from Come Fly With Me met many others’ description
Specific workers will be introduced to help ensure social distancing in town and city centres
Others were left confused by the mere idea of a Covid marshal as it was first revealed today
This user pictured the marshals as enthusiastically reporting groups of seven people
The PM signalled that the ‘rule of six’ limit on how many people can socialise together will be in place for some time to come, after partying among the younger generation fuelled a sharp rise
He said the spike in infections seen over the past week left him no choice but to tighten lockdown across England for the first time since March
The limit – sparked by concern that partying young people are fuelling a flare-up – is a dramatic reduction on the maximum of 30 put in place on July 4
Those breaking the rules can expect a £100 fine from police, which will then double on each repeat offence up to £3,200
Covid marshals have also been introduced in a bid to improve the enforcement capacity of local authorities
Apart from a vaccine, Mr Johnson said the only other way out before Christmas was a ‘moonshot’ of introducing mass daily testing for everyone, but admitted that would require ‘everything to come together’
In a direct plea to young people, Mr Johnson said that they should consider their behaviour ‘for the sake of your parents’ and your grandparents’ health’
Prof Whitty said the numbers of coronavirus case have been increasing ‘much more rapidly’ over the past few days. While the numbers among older people and children remained ‘flat’, in other age groups there were ‘rapid upticks’
He said among 17 to 18 year-olds and 19 to 21 year-olds the numbers had gone up ‘really quite steeply’ since mid August
A particularly smug Ned Flanders from The Simpsons matched this user’s idea of a Covid marshal
The Office’s Gareth Keenan was a popular reference point for those mocking the idea
Prof Whitty said that data suggested that without action Britain would be on a path ‘extremely similar’ to France where the numbers have continued to rise – cautioning that the situation was likely to be perilous all the way through to Spring
Government sources have voiced gloom about a ‘difficult six months’ to come. One official cautioned that it was not a scenario of ‘a couple of weeks and we’re back to where we were’, saying the R number was ‘clearly above one’
Mr Johnson said he was ‘sorry’ that larger households would not be able to meet up, as they would be above the six-person threshold
A displeased Sir Keir Starmer was also used in reaction to the Prime Minister’s announcement