Fresh Covid-19 restrictions hamstring Christmas retail

The Tier 4 restrictions placed on London and much of the South East will have severe consequences on ‘non-essential’ retail businesses (including furniture and furnishings stores), says the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Non-essential shops have also been closed in Wales due to lockdown, with those in Northern Ireland and Scotland facing a similar fate from Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, respectively. 

Chief executive Helen Dickinson comments: “We recognise that the Government has difficult decisions to make and the situation with the pandemic is very fast moving, but this is hugely regrettable news.

“Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores Covid-secure for customers and staff, and SAGE’s advice has said throughout that closing non-essential retail has a minimal impact on the spread of the virus.

“The consequences of this decision will be severe. For businesses, the Government’s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful – this decision comes only two weeks after the end of the last national lockdown and right in the middle of peak trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery.

“Faced with this news – and the prospect of losing £2b per week in sales for the third time this year – many businesses will be in serious difficulty and many thousands of jobs could be at risk. The Government will need to offer additional financial support to help these businesses get back on an even keel – an extension to business rates relief in 2021 is the best place to start.”

Although they will be reveiewed every two weeks, it is unclear when the restrictions in England will be lifted.

The move coincides with the closure of France to UK traffic, implemented to help halt transmission of a new strain of coronavirus to continental Europe.

“The closure of France to UK traffic, including accompanied freight, poses difficulties for UK capacity to import and export key goods during the busy Christmas period,” says the BRC’s director of food & sustainability, Andrew Opie.

“While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee they can return to the EU in a timely manner. This is a key supply route for fresh produce at this time of year – the channel crossings see 10,000 trucks passing daily during peak periods such as in the run-up to Christmas.

“We urge the UK Government and the EU to find a pragmatic solution to this as soon as possible, to prevent disruption for consumers. Retailers have stocked up on goods ahead of Christmas, which should prevent immediate problems. However, any prolonged closure of the French border would be a problem as the UK enters the final weeks before the [Brexit] transition ends on 31st December.”

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