COVID marshals are taking to the streets of Hampshire today to help prevent a post-lockdown surge in coronavirus cases.

The month-long shutdown, which ended just after midnight, has been replaced by a revised regional tier system that aims to suppress the virus in the run-up to Christmas.

One of the marshals' main tasks is to monitor social distancing as the festive season approaches and shopping centres become busier.

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Hampshire is now in Tier 2, which means people are banned from socialising indoors with anyone outside their own household. Shops, gyms and hairdressers can reopen, but pubs can operate only if they serve "substantial" meals.

Marshals cannot enforce the rules but aim to take some of the pressure off police and council officers, who do have the necessary powers.

Southampton is one of the places where they are taking to the streets from today.

The city council has been awarded a Home Office grant of £153,000 to fund Covid marshals, who will patrol the city centre and local district centres throughout the winter.

A council spokesperson said: "The marshals will keep people informed and help them follow national safety guidelines. They will promote social distancing in public areas where people might congregate such as parks and high streets, and play their part in supporting businesses by providing advice to ensure they are Covid-safe."

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Cllr Dave Shields is the council's cabinet member for stronger communities.

He said: “We plan to be able to emerge from lockdown in a strong position as the city opens up again with hopefully low rates of infection. The marshals will be one important way in which we can help people and businesses to follow guidance over those crucial winter months.”

In the New Forest people officially known as Covid Safety Ambassadors (CSAs) will also be patrolling from today.

Cllr Diane Andrews, portfolio holder for community affairs, said: "We have identified local areas that may benefit from someone on hand to offer reassurance and advice – for example high streets on market days, busy schools and transport terminals."

Cllr Andrews said CSAs were not there to enforce the regulations but would "collaborate with other agencies" if required.

One of the new marshals added: "I’m really pleased I can play my part in helping people to understand how they can meet the restrictions and keep everyone safe.

"It can be confusing when the rules change. I see my role as being able to give a friendly reminder and as someone to seek advice from."