COVID marshals will soon start patrolling the New Forest to enforce rules aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

The marshals will monitor the behaviour of people in parks, town centres and railway stations to ensure they are complying with social distancing and other regulations.

The district council is recruiting officials and using existing employees after being handed £71,000 by central government to fund the scheme.

Similar patrols are already operating in other parts of the UK.

New Forest Post:

Last month police were called to an abandoned house in Osborne Road, New Milton, and broke up a gathering of around 30 youths who were flouting Covid restrictions.

It happened exactly a week after officers were abused by a group of youngsters who were refusing to wear face coverings at a store in Station Road.

The council leader, Cllr Barry Rickman, said the new marshals would be out and about "explaining and encouraging best practice” in line with Covid guidance.

Their duties will include ensuring people are wearing face masks and using one-way systems on pavements.

Lymington's weekly street market - held every Saturday - is likely to be one of the sites patrolled.

Cabinet member Cllr Diane Andrews said the marshals would remind everyone what they were supposed to be doing. She added that Covid rates in the Forest were relatively low but warned against complacency.

Covid marshals have no power of arrest and cannot issue on-the-spot fines.

However, they are being used to disperse groups of people who are flouting the Rule of Six in town centres. They are also visiting pubs and restaurants to make sure everyone is complying with social distancing.

The council is also introducing new measures to enable people to report businesses that are breaching coronavirus restrictions.

Cllr Andrews told fellow cabinet members: "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.”

New Forest Post:

Staff working in close-contact industries, including hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and tattooists, must wear a clear visor or goggles and a face mask.

Shops, theatres, beauty salons and hospitality venues must ensure customers wear face masks unless they are exempt.

Pubs and restaurants must provide a table service only and close at 10pm.