Covid wardens must be held to account

The government’s £300 million Covid warden project is now being rolled out across the country, with councils asked to provide wardens to monitor and enforce social distancing rules.

These wardens do not have formal powers, but they are linked into council enforcers and to the police. The government guidance for the Covid warden scheme suggests that councils employ private security guards in this role.

Unsurprisingly, reports of heavy-handed conduct are coming in. One Norfolk restaurant owner was invaded by ‘black-booted bouncers’, with an ‘aggressive’ manner, after he offered to give his customers a free Scotch egg and salad with their drinks. According to the wardens, a scotch egg did not count as a ‘substantial meal’, and therefore was in violation of current guidelines.

There is also the possibility that these wardens become all-purpose police snoops. The government itself highlighted the example of Charnwood Council wardens reporting ASB and other incidents ‘in real time’ to the police.

The fact that this scheme is open to abuse is drummed home by the appearance of fake Covid wardens, issuing people with ‘fines’ for not wearing a mask.

Such a vague remit, with only minimal guidance controlling the conduct of these officers, creates an inherent danger that these positions will be abused – and that the wardens will become an unwelcome ‘busybody’ element in town and city centres.

These Covid wardens need to be carefully monitored and held to account.