All non-essential retail will reopen in April – but customers will have to shop alone.
The Government has said the reopening of the indoor economy, which employs around 1.2 million people, from April 12 will restore jobs and enable people to access important activities and services.
However, wider social distancing rules will apply in all these settings as they reopen as part of Step 2 of the roadmap out of lockdown. It means customers visiting shops, which are predominantly indoor spaces, will have to do so either alone or with their household groups.
While the news that non-essential retail will reopen was welcomed, the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) voiced disappointment with the designated April 12 date.
Andrew Goodacre, the Bira CEO, said: "Whilst it is good for us to have a date, we are very disappointed that non-essential shops will miss the Easter period, especially as they also missed out on most of the busy festive period."
He called on Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to recognise this in next week's Budget and said independent retailers "are desperate to be open and serving their communities" and said: "In the meantime, we have large general retailers and garden centres free to trade despite only selling a small amount of essential items, with the prospect of being free form competition for the next seven weeks."
Helen Dickinson OBE, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, called on the Government to "remain flexible and allow non-essential retail to reopen as soon as the data suggests it is safe to do so".
She said: "Non-essential shops are ready to reopen and have been investing hundreds of millions on making themselves Covid-secure."
Last week, the Tony Blair Institute published its blueprint to get Britain out of lockdown and suggested non-essential shops could start being opened towards the end of March if Covid cases continued to drop at the current rates.
Meanwhile, the impact the pandemic has had on the high street could see the John Lewis Partnership cut a raft of regional department stores. The organisation is said to be considering the closure of up to eight of its remaining 42 stores in the latest sign of the difficulties hitting traditional high street giants.
The Government's official Covid response document said closing non-essential retail had led to a high take-up of the furlough scheme in the wider wholesale and retail sector.