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Retail and business groups welcome easing of Covid restrictions but seek more clarity

Lauretta Roberts
05 July 2021

Retail and business groups have welcome news that Covid restrictions are to be further relaxed on 19 July but some are calling for clarity to ensure employees feel confident returning to work and customers understand future expectations.

This evening Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation and said it is expected thatface masks will no longer be required indoors in England, including in retail stores, and that customers would no longer be obliged to "check in" with the test & trace app, when visiting bars, pubs and restaurants. Visitors to hospitality venues will no longer have to be seated.

In addition all limits on socialising indoors are set to be lifted meaning nightclubs can re-open and entertainment venues, such as cinemas and theatres, can operate fully.

While staff will be permitted to return to offices, which would aid city and town centre footfall, the Government was stopping short of encouraging a return instead allowing businesses to issue their own guidance.

Johnson said that the public would be asked to take personal responsibility for their behaviour, as opposed to being told what to do by the Government, and it would be up to individuals to decide if they wanted to continue to wear face coverings in crowded settings or on public transport (though some are calling for masks to remain in place on public transport).

The Prime Minister said the new rules would come into effect two weeks today, subject to a final review of the latest evidence a week today. Wales has yet to commit to a date to further lockdown easing while Scotland will review its restrictions on 9 August.

Johnson did not, however, rule our further lockdowns. “If we do find another variant that doesn’t respond to the vaccines, if heaven forbid some really awful new bug should appear, then clearly we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public,” he said.

He said that the Government needed to take the opportunity to lift some restrictions now, otherwise they could remain in place into 2022. He argued that failure to open up now would either mean doing so during the difficult winter period or delaying until next year, adding that the the summer would act as a “firebreak” because of the school holidays.

If we don’t go ahead now . . . then the question is, when would we go ahead, particularly given the likelihood the virus will have an extra advantage in the colder months, in the autumn, and in the winter?

“So we run the risk of either opening up at a very difficult time when the virus has an edge, has an advantage in the colder months, or again putting everything off to next year.”

Responding to the news, British Retail Consortium (BRC) director of business and regulation, Tom Ironside, said: “It will take consumers and businesses time to adjust and it is vital that Government messaging is clear and consistent so that businesses and consumers easily understand what is expected of them both legally and individually.”

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company which represents 600 businesses on London’s Oxford Strett, Bond Street, Regent Street and in Mayfair, welcomed the news but said the capital needed more footfall and he wanted to see a road map for opening up tourism and an encouragement to return to the office.

“The hard won progress toward ‘freedom day’ is to be welcomed, and London’s West End and its visitors, shoppers and employees are very much looking forward to a further easing of restrictions having proven they can live safely with Covid.”

“What the West End cannot continue to live without are our office-based customers and overseas visitors, and we urgently need a road map to open up the UK to international tourism and more than a lifting of working from home guidance, we need positive encouragement to return to the office," Tyrrell said.

British Chamber of Commerce director general, Shevaun Haviland, said that more detail was needed to avoid confusion.

“This is a much-needed step on the road to normality and we welcome the Prime Minister setting out the direction of travel in advance of reopening. But businesses in England still do not have the full picture they desperately need to plan for unlocking.

“Much remains  in the  balance,  firms do not  yet know  the future of self-isolation rules, if testing will remain free for them, or when international travel will open up effectively.

“Without clear guidance for businesses around the new proposals, there could be real uncertainty on how they should operate going forward and what they should be doing to keep staff and their customers safe.”

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