The marshals – dubbed ‘Covid Wombles’ – have been in use since September, but new guidelines have been issued which recommend their roles could be stepped up. The government has suggested the marshals should have security guard training according to the Daily Telegraph.
They have also reportedly been told to target group events such as weddings as well as pubs, where video cameras attached to them would record crowds and film evidence of rule-breaking.
This week, the government announced £30 million would be sent to regional authorities in England as Boris Johnson mulls stricter rules to limit the UK’s soaring daily infections.
The funding will, among other things, help pay for the coronavirus marshals.
Marshals have been used since September, and have typically been tasked with making sure people follow rules such as wearing face masks in shops.
Robert Jenrick, Communities Secretary, has suggested the marshals will have purely advisory roles and will not be able to enforce the law themselves.
He said on BBC Radio 4: “They won’t have the power to enforce the law so if there are particularly egregious examples they would need to escalate that to the police and I think that is the right thing to do.”
However, the government guidance – which was issued by the ministry of housing communities – recommends two different types of marshal.
The introduction of the Covid marshals have been criticised by some, including Brian Booth, chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation.
He said last month police forces could be overwhelmed by calls to enforce the rules if marshals ring in with reports.
The federation chairman told the Daily Telegraph: “We are snowed under with our usual police work so the real issue for us is one of resourcing.
“If we are suddenly inundated with calls from members of the public or marshals reporting illegal gatherings what are we going to do?”
He recommended public health officials could be given enforcement powers, and that police should only step in “when an issue arose”.
Last month, Bedfordshire Police issued a warning following an incident in which people posed as Covid marshals as a distraction technique so they could break into a property.
The two men had reportedly tried to enter a property by insisting they were supposed to enter people’s houses and check if government rules were being followed.
The police said: “The resident asked the men for their identification. When they couldn’t produce any, he refused to let them in, and kept the security chain on the door.”
Bedfordshire Police’s Lesley Johnson added: “Covid marshals do not have the power to enforce social distancing or to issue fines, and government advice says they have no right of entry to your home.”