COVID marshals: What are coronavirus compliance officers and what will they do?

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
 A sign reading 'Please stay 2m Apart' on pavements in London. Social Distancing, Hand Sanitiser stations and NHS signage around London as Lockdown restrictions are loosened by allowing Pubs, Restaurants and all retail to re-open. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A sign urging pedestrians to keep two metres apart on pavements in London. (SOPA Images/Sipa USA/PA)

Boris Johnson has announced a team of “COVID-secure” marshals to help enforce the stricter new rules that were announced on Wednesday.

With social gatherings limited to six people from Monday, the prime minister attempted to simplify the rules on what is permitted during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is unclear specifically what role the new marshals will perform and what powers they will have.

But the PM said they will be based in town and city centres, where there are large numbers of bars and restaurants, which will be restricted on group sizes from next week.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 9:  Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference at Downing Street on September 9, 2020 in London, England. As from Monday September 14, people in England will only be allowed to socialise in groups of six or less people following the announcement from the Prime Minister. This is to help curb the recent rise in Coronavirus cases. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau- WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson announced COVID marshals at a virtual press conference at Downing Street on Wednesday. (Getty)

Who are COVID marshals?

Speaking on Wednesday, Johnson 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 on Thursday that street wardens who patrol local town centres “would be helpful to support this activity”.

He told BBC Breakfast that these people “could be moved” into acting as COVID marshals.

They will be given local authority high visibility uniforms, badges, and clipboards so that the public are aware of who they are.

What will they do?

Johnson said that the marshals will help to enforce social distancing rules to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Shapps suggested that the marshals would remind people of the rules when out and about – including encouraging face masks when entering shops and providing more information about what the law states.

As they are there to enforce social distancing guidelines, it is expected that they will also make sure people are keeping apart and walking along appropriate routes.

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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.

When will they appear on the streets?

While the new law on social gatherings comes into force from Monday, the marshals will not be starting at the same time.

The government have yet to say when they will be seen on Britain’s streets and town centres.

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”.

She added to 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 over the next few days”.

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