Army of Covid marshals to be deployed across England after scenes of overcrowding as pubs reopened this week

AN ARMY of Covid marshals is set to be deployed across England after council bosses were alarmed by scenes of overcrowding when pubs threw open their doors again on Monday.

Local authorities are calling in the cavalry to prevent the build up of large groups outside bars and restaurants, including long queues in the street to enter some boozers.

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Westminster Council, in the heart of London, is bringing back 50 such officials who will patrol the streets and ensure businesses and customers are complying with social distancing, according to The Times.

Most of the marshals will be drawn from the city inspectors divisions, which normally helps tourists on the streets of the capital but has been largely unused since the pandemic began.

They will mostly be deployed to the famous bars district of Soho, where large crowds crammed into the narrow streets when hospitality settings finally reopened this week.

Witnesses complained that there was "very little" social distancing between groups, with many of the streets in the West End having been closed to traffic in the evenings to create extra outdoor terraces.

Other areas are also worried about a lack of discipline as Brits head out to the pubs again, with Manchester City council also deploying staff to patrol the streets this week.

Its Covid marshals will be on duty between 8am and 8pm across the city centre to ensure the sanitary rules are being adhered to, with the city's licensing team then taking over until 2am.

Manchester's famous Norther Quarter drew large crowds of people on Monday night when the pubs reopened, although local bosses say most punters stuck to social distancing guidance.

Covid marshals have no enforcement powers but are deployed so they can “engage, explain and encourage” people and businesses to follow the rules voluntarily.

They can report groups and venues that refuse to change their behaviour and comply with the regulations to the police.

The Government has set up a £400 million for this year which councils can use to pay for marshals as part of efforts to help areas prevent and contain local outbreaks.

In a statement Westminster city council said: “We are pleased that visitors can return to the city and enjoy the shops and outdoor hospitality safely.

"We are aware of isolated incidents of crowding in Soho. The council is working with the police and businesses in the area to ensure that they are operating responsibly.”

A government spokesman said: “Businesses have gone to great lengths to reopen safely this week, and we thank them for their efforts to protect the public.

“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the vast majority continue to follow the rules – including this week as pubs and restaurants reopened outdoors.

“We have given councils an extra £400 million to manage local outbreaks and recruit covid marshals, whilst also providing additional funding to help high streets welcome back customers.”

Today it emerged that booze sales more than doubled in bars and restaurants on Monday compared with before the pandemic as eager Brits returned to the pub.

Alcohol sales skyrocketed by 113.8 per cent compared to the same day in 2019 as thousands packed into outdoor beer gardens across England for the first time in months.

Pubs, restaurants and bars which reopened on Monday as lockdown eased have said their sales doubled on levels before the coronavirus pandemic struck, as Brits enjoyed their first taste of freedom in at least three months.

Huge queues were seen outside boozers from midnight and continuing throughout the day – despite temperatures plunging to -3C.

Hospitality data specialists at CGA said that drink sales jumped by almost 114 per cent on the first day of outdoor trading, compared with the same day in 2019.

The “solid performance” proved just how keen Brits are to get back to socialising with friends and family, and provided optimism for the beleaguered hospitality industry, said experts.

"The first day of trading after England's lockdown showed a fairly solid performance and demonstrates how consumers were keen to enjoy their first drink out with like-for-like drinks sales up nearly 115% for outlets that were open compared with the equivalent day in 2019,” said Jonny Jones, CGA's MD for UK & Ireland.

The figures are especially promising as only 38.2 per cent of venues had the outdoor space so they could reopen this week.

The figures, for the 41,000 licensed premises able to open outdoors, showed a dip of 12 per cent in food sales however.

"Food sales didn't fare quite so well, at 12% below 2019 levels, but this is understandable given that operators can currently only trade outside," pointed our Mr Jones.

On Monday, total sales were almost 60 per cent up on the same level two years ago, as strong drink sales were partly offset by weaker demand for outdoor dining during the cold weather.

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