SO-CALLED Covid marshals will soon be patrolling New Forest town centres, parks and train stations to make sure people are following the rules.
New Forest District Council will be recruiting officials and using existing employees after being given £71,000 by central government.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the move in a recent address to the nation, and the scheme is already up and running in towns across the UK.
NFDC leader Cllr Barry Rickman told a meeting of the full council on Monday night that marshals would be out and about over the next four months “explaining and encouraging best practice” in line with Covid-secure guidance.
No details were revealed about what responsibilities these wardens would have, but it has been reported they will ensure the public are correctly wearing masks and using one-way systems on pavements. They could also hand out face coverings and hand gel.
Speaking to the A&T after the meeting, cabinet member Cllr Diane Andrews stressed the marshals will not be there to spoil anyone’s fun.
“This will not be a wagging of the finger,” she said. “It’s about education and supporting people who want to come out onto the high streets but who are worried.
“So, for instance, they may be out at Lymington market where perhaps there could be people crowded on one side of the street.
“We will be having a meeting on Friday [today] and will be writing up a job description for the role, but essentially they will be reminding everyone what they are supposed to be doing.”
Cllr Andrews added: “We are lucky in this area that Covid rates are relatively low, but we must not be complacent.”
The marshals will have no formal powers to arrest anyone. It is understood they may break up groups of more than six in town centres but cannot issue on-the-spot fines.
The Prime Minister also warned they may check on pubs and restaurants to make sure social distancing rules are being followed.
NFDC will also introduce new measures to enable residents to report businesses which flout Covid-19 restrictions. People can alert the authority to firms that appear to be breaching the rules via its customer service phone line during office hours or online.
Cllr Andrews told a meeting of NFDC’s ruling cabinet last week: “If residents are concerned about what they’ve seen, they will be able to share information with us through our customer services team. And we will also make sure an out-of-hours option for reporting is available.”
Under new laws, staff working in close-contact industries, including hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and tattooists, must wear a clear visor or goggles and a face mask.
Businesses such as shops, theatres, beauty salons and hospitality venues must take steps to ensure customers also wear face masks unless exempt.
Hospitality venues, such as pubs and restaurants, are required to close at 10pm and operate with table service only.
As reported in the A&T, local tourism group Go New Forest has warned of cuts in income of up to 30% from the hospitality curfew, with New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne calling for local autonomy over the rules.
A spokesperson for NFDC said: “Social gatherings or other disturbances that breach government legislation or the ‘rule of six’ should be reported as a breach of Covid regulations on the Hampshire Constabulary website or by calling 101.”