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Non-essential retail across England braced for another month-long lockdown

Lauretta Roberts
31 October 2020

Speculation is rife today the Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to impose a month-long national lockdown across England, beginning from Wednesday, that would involve the closure of non-essential retail until at least 1 December.

The news would be a devastating blow to retailers in the most important trading quarter of the year when they had hoped to recover some of the losses made during the last lockdown in from March to June.

It appears the plans for the lockdown were leaked to both The Times and The Daily Mail, prompting consternation among the public and business leaders who demanded the Government clarify the situation.

Frances Bishop, founder of independent childrenswear chain The Pud Store, described the announcements as "crippling" and criticised the Government for not addressing the public directly instead of allowing leaks to certain media outlets.

The news is particularly worrying for retailers since the official furlough scheme ends today with employers unclear about what support their businesses might receive should they be forced to close once again.

However Government health advisers have argued that the move is necessary in order to "Save Christmas" and to suppress spiralling cases. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has reportedly warned the Government that without drastic action there could be a further 85,000 coronavirus-linked deaths this winter.

Johnson had been resisting a full lockdown and the Government's new three Tier systems of regional measures has only been in place for little more than a week. However official figures now show that more than 500,000 people were estimated to have had coronavirus in the week ending 23 October, with more than one in 100 people infected in England, compared to one in 130 the previous week. There were a further 24,405 positive tests in the UK and a further 274 deaths.

Britons had been encouraged to begin their Christmas shopping early this year to avoid over-crowding in the shops in a campaign led by the British Retail Consortium, which urged people to “shop early, start wrapping, enjoy Christmas”.

However a month-long lockdown at a crucial time, which also covers the Black Friday promotional period, will throw retailers' plans into disarray and force more shoppers online. Retail consultant Steve Dresser described the potential of non-essential retail as "terrible, terrible news".

Johnson has been criticised for not acting on SAGE's advice to implement a short circuit break lockdown over an extended half term break and that the second lockdown will need to be longer as a result.

While it hasn't been confirmed by the Government that non-essential retail will close, The Times reports that Johnson will hold a press conference on Monday to announce the new measures, under which everything could be closed except essential shops and “educational settings”, including nurseries, schools and universities.

Wales is half-way through what it describes as a two-week "firebreak" lockdown during which all non-essential retail was forced to close and supermarket's were obliged to block the sales of clothing and all other non-essential items in their stores.

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