Covid-19: Another landmark day for shop and food service closures

More retailers have made the decision to close their stores temporarily at the end of trading today (23 March) in light of stricter governmental advice on social distancing as the coronavirus pandemic death rates continue to rise.

Department store retailer John Lewis, fast food restaurant group McDonald’s, and bookseller Waterstones will cease trading from their stores for an indefinite period today, joining hundreds of independent and chain retailers which have already made the move. Meanwhile, clothing retailer Primark announced on Sunday (22 March) that it would not be opening its stores from today.

On Friday, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, ordered pubs, restaurants, leisure centres, and gyms to close their premises, as fears over the spread of the Covid-19 virus mount and officials warned of additional pressures on the NHS as more people become infected. As of Sunday, there had been 281 deaths in the UK as a result of the coronavirus.

As yet, retailers have not been ordered to close, although it is expected this guidance will come in due course, in line with events in other countries seriously affected by the virus including China, Italy, Spain, and France. In Germany, social gatherings of more than two people have been banned, and thousands of retailers have been forced to close their doors in the country.

Essential retail store operations, including grocers and pharmacies, are expected to remain available to the public.

In the case of John Lewis, new chairperson Sharon White said on Saturday: “The welfare of our customers, communities and partners is always our absolute priority.

“While it is with a heavy heart that we temporarily close our John Lewis shops, our partners will, where possible, be taking on important roles in supporting their fellow partners, providing critical services in Waitrose shops and ensuring our customers can get what they need through, which is seeing extremely strong demand.”

She added: “The partnership has traded for over 155 years, during which time we have faced many difficult periods, including two world wars and the 2008 financial crisis. On every occasion, thanks to our customers and partners, and the longstanding relationships with our suppliers and stakeholders, we have emerged stronger.”

McDonald’s, meanwhile, had last week opted to keep its counters and drive-thrus open for takeaways, but ultimately found it was too difficult to maintain social distancing, which UK health officials advise as staying at least two metres apart from people to avoid the virus spreading from one individual to another.

Waterstones CEO, James Daunt, had originally argued bookshops were essential items, and planned to keep his shops open. A social media backlash over the weekend, prompted by shop staff expressing their fears of catching the coronavirus due their interactions with the public, seemingly led to a change in direction.

In a letter to staff, Daunt wrote: “Now we look at how best to bolster our online operation and how best to sustain the business until such time as we are able to open our doors again.”

Essential Retail’s rolling news story, includes details of many of the other retailers that have already closed their doors temporarily in light of the escalating health crisis.