The Prime Minister has announced his roadmap for the easing of Covid-19 restrictions across England.
All shops – including those classed as 'non-essential retail' will be permitted to open from Monday 12th April, should varied conditions be met, namely: the vaccine programme goes to plan; the vaccine sufficiently reduces mortality rates and hospitalisation; there is no surge in hospital admissions; and no new variants fundamentally alter the risk of lifting restrictions.
The current aim is for all restrictions to be lifted by 21st June at the earliest. The Government plans to pilot events including work conferences from April, to help inform its approach to handling large groups in time for the summer.
Responding to the PM’s plan, Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), says: “We welcome the additional clarity provided by the Prime Minister. While we are encouraged by a plan for non-essential stores to re-open, the heavy impact of the pandemic means some may never be able to. The cost of lost sales to non-food stores during lockdown is now over £22b and counting. Every day that a shop remains closed increases the chances that it will never open again - costing jobs and damaging local communities.
“Non-essential shops are ready to re-open and have been investing hundreds of millions on making themselves Covid-secure. Government should remain flexible and allow non-essential retail to reopen as soon as the data suggests it is safe to do so. Until it is permitted, retailers will need continued support from Government. We welcome the PM’s call ‘not to pull the rug out’ from under businesses. To this end, the Government must act on three vital issues – rents, rates and grants.
“To avoid further job losses and permanent job closures, the Chancellor must announce a targeted business rates relief from April and extend the moratorium on debt enforcement, as well as removing state aid caps on Covid business grants. This would relieve struggling businesses of bills they cannot currently pay and allow them to trade their way to recovery.”
Further details are expected in the Chancellor's Spring Budget, due on 3rd March. The Financial Times has reported that an extension of the year-long business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure is likely, while the furlough scheme may be extended into the summer.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will set out their own plans imminently.