Thousands queue across the country as shops in England reopen for first time since March lockdown

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

Queues have formed at stores across England as thousands of non-essential shops pulled up their shutters 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”.

In a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many shops will bring in more spacious floor plans, only allow in a limited number of customers at once and have hand sanitiser stations.

A shopper at Primark in Birmingham. Credit: PA

Businesses have had to ensure they are “Covid-secure” according to government guidelines, and extra precautions they are taking may include deep cleaning stores and putting items that have been tried on or returned in quarantine.

Long lines were seen at Primark stores across the country, with dozens of keen shoppers waiting outside branches of the budget clothes store in Birmingham, Derby, Liverpool and Nottingham.

  • Shoppers queue outside Primark in Liverpool

Birmingham's main Primark store was forced to open 35 minutes early at 7.25am this morning, because of the huge queue that formed outside.

The first paying customer at the store revealed she got up at 4.30am to secure her place in the queue.

Many of those queuing to enter the store were wearing protective masks – with one woman shopping while equipped with a full-length hooded protective suit.

Another female shopper, clutching three Primark bags, said: “It’s good to be back – it seems like forever since I’ve been in a clothes shop.”

Queuing lanes have been erected outside the High Street store to ensure customers entering and leaving are kept several metres apart.

Signs have also been placed around the 45,000 sq ft outlet to encourage social distancing.

Preparing to open an Apple store in Belfast. Credit: PA

Customers queuing for the Apple store on Regent Street in central London had their temperatures checked by staff before being allowed to enter.

Those queuing for the store – including one woman who arrived at 7am – were told they must wear face coverings when inside.

Masks were handed out by members of staff, who clapped when the first shoppers entered the store at 10am.

A sign asks customers a series of questions, including if they are experiencing symptoms or have been in contact with a positive case.

By 9am, a queue of people was forming outside Nike Town on Oxford Street, ahead of the store’s opening at 11am.

Members of staff told shoppers to move apart and adhere to social distancing while in the queue, which snaked around the corner of the building.

Around 100 people can be in the store at any one time, according to one member of staff.

Ricky Young said he joined the queue at around 8.30am to buy trainers, likening the process to that of going food shopping in a supermarket.

Asked if he expected it to be busy, the 38-year-old plasterer said: “No, I actually thought people might have been sleeping or didn’t want to go out.

“But the doors are open again, it’s back to almost normal, back to business – but we just have to line up.”

  • Dr Zoe Williams explains how best to stay safe while shopping:

Sammy, who declined to give his second name, was among the first customers to enter the Nike Town store, where he went to “see what deals were available”.

“I brought protective equipment with me and despite it being a little bit crowded, they did all they could to put the measures in place and keep it under control,” the 23-year-old said.

On visiting other shops, he added: “It’s one of the busiest streets in the world so we’re going to browse around and see what’s available.”

  • Shoppers in Brighton "just can't wait to get in" to reopened shops:

Footfall on England’s high streets rose by 50.5% on Monday compared with last week, data from retail analyst Springboard has indicated.

According to figures for up until 5pm, footfall in retail parks that comprise high street retailers in England was up 33.4% while in shopping centres it rose by 34.1%.

This left the overall rise in footfall at all retail destinations in England at 38.8% as of 5pm on Monday in comparison with a week ago.

Footfall across all of England’s retail destinations was down 35.9% year-on-year, while on high streets it was down 45.3%, Springboard said.

Diana Wherle, the organisation’s insight director said: “Footfall has risen by more than we anticipated, but it was certainly helped by the weather which made queuing a more pleasurable experience.”

Small business minister Paul Scully insisted it is safe to shop, noting the new looks many stores will have as they attempt to ensure social distancing and good hygiene among staff and customers.

He told ITV News it is crucial to "stay alert" but that Monday was "a good day" for the economy and protecting jobs.

"It's really important that people realise that they should be confident to come out shopping again".

On Downing Street's review into the two-metre social distancing rule, Mr Scully said the outcome of the review "would be reported back within a few weeks" adding:

"We need to make sure we get the economic argument right with the health argument that must come first - it's all about saving lives first".

Speaking on Sunday, Boris Johnson said he did not know whether to expect “a flood or a trickle” when the shops reopened but that he hoped people would return in “sensible” numbers.

Visiting Westfield shopping centre in east London, 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 reopen.

Mr 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.