A North East council has hired coronavirus wardens who are set to be in place until 2022.
Last month, Sunderland City Council issued a job advert for ‘Covid Marshals’, who patrol the city ensuring adherence to regulations like social distancing and mask-wearing.
The fixed-term contracts, paid at a rate of £20,092 – £21,748, were set to last for 12 months.
At present, June 21 this year is still the earliest that restrictions could lift, when England hits Stage 4 on the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
The date – which could be delayed if the fight against Covid-19 is not progressing as required – has been touted as the end to all restrictions, with closed sectors of the economy like nightclubs reopening and all restrictions on social contact lifted.
Yet the Sunderland Council role suggests the council may be planning for restrictions as far ahead as March 2022 – a full two years after the country was first plunged into lockdown.
According to the job advert, which closed on March 21: “Duties will include directing pedestrians and support businesses to manage queues and one-way systems, helping prevent mixing between groups in public spaces, reminding members of the public to wear a face covering where required (unless exempt) and provide advice on how to wear face coverings.
“You may also be required to visit businesses to review Covid-19 safety compliance, provide advice aligned to Government guidance and signposting businesses to this guidance, review and promote visibility of Covid-19; Secure messaging in business; Undertake promotional activity, e.g. sharing of good practice, signage, advertising, accreditation scheme etc.”
The council said contracts were “cost-effective”.
Sunderland City Council’s Executive Director of Neighbourhoods, Fiona Brown, said: “Our marshals are there to support Sunderland’s communities and businesses with continued advice and guidance to help guard against Covid transmission.
“The virus has not gone away and while there is uncertainty about the future the council has chosen to be prepared for any eventuality.
“Marshals will play a key role in protecting our city and its residents over coming weeks and months so everyone can look to and enjoy a summer with fewer restrictions.
“The council has been organising fixed-term contracts for marshals as a cost-effective option for this important work.”
Meanwhile, Northumberland County Council is currently advertising roles for Covid support officers on three to six month contracts with “possible extensions”. That would mean it’s possible for the roles, paid at £10.41 an hour, to end in June or July – but they could be needed until October or November.
A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “It’s important people remember that although we’re making excellent progress in the fight against Covid, it hasn’t gone away and all of must continue to take steps to keep ourselves and others safe.
“We’re looking to recruit 12 Covid Support officers and three additional CovidSafe Trading Officers.
“The intention is to use the staff to support our communities through the recovery phase to help minimise and mitigate any potential risk as restrictions are eased further.
“However Covid will not disappear in June if and when restrictions are lifted, and the staff will be engaged with activities that support business, communities and residents to mitigate future outbreaks while preparing for the future.
“These might be providing advice and guidance, support to help manage the opening of large events or even to support surge testing and outbreak controls. “
Elsewhere, Darlington, Portsmouth, Cornwall and Carlisle councils have reportedly extended existing contracts beyond July, while Hertfordshire County Council defended its decision to recruit 60 marshals from July 1 until January 31 next week, at a cost of an estimated £3m.
A council spokesperson told the PA news agency the move was “not indicative of any increases in restrictions from July 2021 onwards”.
It comes as figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that deaths involving Covid-19 among people in all age groups 50 and over have fallen by at least 95% since the second-wave peak.
Meanwhile, separate figures show a quarter of UK adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, which has been hailed as a “huge achievement” by the Prime Minister.
However, there are warnings of a possible ‘third wave’, as diagnosed Covid cases rise in more than half of England’s towns and cities.