Queues form as non-essential stores re-open for first time since March lockdown
Queues have formed at stores across England as thousands of non-essential stores, including fashion retailers, prepared to pull up their shutters today for the first time since March.
Customers are being encouraged to go out and spend but to “be sensible” in their approach, as the Government seeks to begin reopening the economy “gradually and carefully”.
Long lines were seen at Primark stores across the country, with dozens of keen shoppers waiting outside branches of the value fashion giant in Birmingham, Derby, Liverpool and Nottingham.
Small business minister Paul Scully insisted it is safe to shop, noting the new measures many stores have implemented as they ensure social distancing and safety among staff and customers.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The high street is going to be a different place to what it was before, with the one-way systems, with the hand sanitisers, and with people not trying clothes on in the same way.
“But, nonetheless, it is safe to shop. I would encourage people to be sensible, work with the people in the shop but do go out and shop, and start opening our economy gradually and carefully.”
Meanwhile, commuters were pictured wearing masks at London’s Waterloo station as face coverings on public transport became mandatory.
With official figures showing the economy shrank by a fifth in April, ministers are desperate to get businesses going again to stave off another wave of job losses.
Boris Johnson said he did not know whether to expect “a flood or a trickle” when the shops re-opened but that he hoped people would return in “sensible” numbers.
Visiting Westfield shopping centre in east London on Sunday, the Prime Minister acknowledged some people may be nervous about returning to the high street after so long away but insisted they “should shop and shop with confidence”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who is reported to be considering a VAT cut to stimulate spending – acknowledged further redundancies were inevitable as the Government’s furlough scheme begins to unwind.
“There is going to be hardship ahead. People are going to lose their jobs,” he said.
Ministers are under intense pressure from Conservative MPs to go further by easing the two-metre social distancing rule so the hard-pressed hospitality sector can also re-open and to ensure retailers can operate at a sustainable level.
Johnson confirmed at the weekend that he had ordered a “comprehensive” Downing Street review of the regulation.
The Prime Minister said the falling numbers of Covid-19 cases meant there was a greater “margin for manoeuvre” as the chances of coming into contact with someone with the disease diminished.
Sunak said it would be an “all round” survey of the issue drawing on advice from economists as well as the scientific and medical experts who have been advising ministers on the pandemic.
He said it would be ministers, not scientists, who would make the decisions on any easing, fuelling the belief at Westminster that the relationship between ministers and the advisers is becoming increasingly strained.
The review is reported to be scheduled to be completed by 4 July, the date slated by the Government for the hospitality sector to start welcoming back customers.
Scully said it would take a “matter of weeks” for the review, which would take into account international comparisons, but added that the Government did not want to be “rushed into decisions as we gradually open up the economy”.
Reporting: PA Media