Non-essential shops in England to close for four weeks

Non-essential retail stores will close in England from this Thursday until 2 December 2020 as part of a new national lockdown introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

This means stores will be closed during a large portion of retail’s crucial ‘golden quarter,’ which includes Black Friday and the Christmas period.

The measures, which were introduced in a press conference on Saturday, are designed to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed. Johnson cited modelling projecting that deaths could reach “several thousand a day” if the steps are not taken.

Johnson warned: “Doctors and nurses would be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would get oxygen and who wouldn’t, who would live and who would die.”

The Prime Minister confirmed that the furlough scheme will now be extended throughout the four weeks, meaning that the government will pay 80% of the wages of all employees in businesses forced to shut.

Pubs, bars and restaurants will also be forced to close under the new rules, as well as leisure and entertainment venues, including gyms. Unlike the first national lockdown restrictions, schools, colleges and universities will stay open while construction sites and manufacturing workplaces are also allowed to continue operating.

At the end of the four weeks, Johnson said the restrictions would be eased and the country would revert back to the regional tier system that was outlined last month. England has followed Wales and Ireland in bringing in new national lockdown measures in response to rising Covid-19 cases.

Responding to the announcement, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), commented: “Retail faces a nightmare before Christmas as the Government proposes to close thousands of retail premises under this new national lockdown, denying customers access to many of their favourite shops and brands. It will cause untold damage to the high street in the run up to Christmas, cost countless jobs and permanently set back the recovery of the wider economy, with only a minimal effect on the transmission of the virus.

“A recent Sage paper reported that closing ‘non-essential’ retail would have minimal impact on the transmission of Covid. This is thanks to the hundreds of millions of pounds retailers have spent making their stores Covid-secure and safe for customers and colleagues.

“The announced closure will have a significant economic impact on the viability of thousands of shops and hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. The previous lockdown cost non-essential shops £1.6 billion a week in lost sales; now that we are entering the all-important Christmas shopping period, these losses are certain to be much bigger.”