Non-essential shops in England reopen for first time in three months

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

People will be able to try on shoes and test beds when they hit the shops on Monday, as England’s non-essential retail sector emerges from coronavirus lockdown.

Department stores and high street shops are opening for the first time in three months - many will have a new look with more spacious floor plans, limited numbers of customers and plenty of hand sanitiser stations.

Businesses have had to ensure they are “Covid-secure” according to Government guidelines, and many have been keen to stress the extra precautions they are taking, from deep cleaning stores to putting items that have been tried on or returned in quarantine.

While masks are mandatory on public transport from Monday, they are not compulsory in shops and most retailers are emphasising a sensible approach, using floor markings and signs to remind people to keep two metres apart and regularly wash or sanitise their hands.

Shoppers in line at Primark in Birmingham as non-essential shops in England open their doors to customers for the first time since coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed in March. Credit: PA

Non-essential shops in Northern Ireland reopened on Friday.

Wales and Scotland do not yet have definite dates for when retail may reopen.

The reopening of shops is not the only lockdown easing measuring coming in to force in England on Monday.

Zoos and safari parks are also welcoming back visitors, places of worship can open for private prayer, while Year 10 and 12 pupils will return to school.

At the same time passengers on public transport will be required to wear face coverings as the pace of activity begins to pick up.

  • Business Secretary Alok Sharma says the economy is being reopened in a 'safe and phased' manner:

With official figures showing the economy shrank by a fifth in April, ministers are desperate to get businesses going again to stave off another wave of job losses.

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 on Sunday, he 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”.

It comes as the PM said the falling numbers of coronavirus cases has given the government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the two-metre social-distancing rule.

Boris Johnson has ordered a “comprehensive” review of the regulation in England.

Ministers are under intense pressure from Conservative MPs who see the easing of the two-metre rule as crucial to the next phase of the reopening, including pubs and restaurants, slated for early July.

Speaking as non-essential shops in England reopened on Monday morning, Small Business Minister Paul Scully said the outcomes of the review "would be reported back within a few weeks".

Mr Scully said it was crucial to "get the economic argument right with the health argument that must come first".

Labour's Lucy Powell told ITV News "the government need to crack on with" guidance for social distancing restrictions.

The Shadow Business Minister said the hospitality industry in particular needed "clarity and guidance" around the two-metre rule ahead of reopening.

Ms Powell said a decision needed to be made to "enable businesses to reopen".

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.

The long-awaited reopening “marks a crucial time for thousands of retailers and hundreds of thousands of jobs”, the British Retail Consortium said.

Councils across the country will be making use of the government funding to safeguard high streets, taking measures including deploying council staff or volunteers to provide help and advice, creating more pedestrianised space and ensuring more frequent street cleaning.

Department store John Lewis will initially reopen two of its stores, in Kingston and Poole, as part of a phased approach, with 11 others to follow on Thursday.

Andrew Murphy, executive director of operations, said his main concern was "capacity limits on the number of customers that we’ll allow in a store at any one time.

“To be honest, because that will be true for every moment of their experience I actually think it’s going to be the relative calmness of the experience that will probably be the main thing that strikes people.”

He said he hopes the range of options still available to customers will leave them “pleasantly surprised”, such as trying on shoes after being given disposable pop socks and lying on beds or testing pillows with single use disposable covers.

Marks & Spencer is putting down floor markings to help people stay two metre apart. Credit: Adrian Brooks/Marks & Spencer/PA

Mr Murphy added: “I’m hopeful that, while the overall atmosphere will feel a bit different to them, what they’ll actually find is a kind of pleasant surprise that it’s calm, it’s pleasant, it’s well ordered, but it’s also still got the real advantage of the physical shopping experience and the things that you can’t do online.”

Government guidance says items that have been tried on should be isolated for 72 hours or cleaned before being returned to the shop floor and that changing rooms should remain closed where possible.

John Lewis, while keeping its fitting rooms shut, is piloting a virtual personal shopper in some stores in the coming weeks.

Technology will also be used for a planned trial of a virtual queuing system for John Lewis and Waitrose, using a customer’s phone to alert them to their position as they wait in a car or run other errands.

Shoppers in line outside John Lewis in Kingston as the store reopens. Credit: PA

Mr Murphy said: “We expect this situation to last well into autumn and perhaps winter so we need to be thinking ahead for how things will work when the weather’s not so great.”

Shoppers at Selfridges, which is reopening its London, Manchester and Birmingham branches, will have the chance to try before they buy, but any clothes will then be quarantined, while shoes and accessories will be cleaned with sanitising spray or steamed.

London’s West End is expecting around 80% fewer visitors when it reopens on Monday.

Primark, which will open each of its 153 English stores, has pledged to ensure basket handles are cleaned after each use and that every second till will be closed to maintain social distancing for customers and employees.

Shoppers outside a Primark store in Birmingham wear protective masks. Credit: PA

Waterstones will quarantine books which are browsed but not bought, while HMV will insist on hand sanitiser if music-lovers wish to flick through records in its A to Z section.

Many stores are encouraging customers to make purchases by contactless card payments, with limits increased to £45.

Arcadia, which owns the likes of Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins, has said it will encourage people to pay contact-less.

Live footfall cameras will be in operation at Westfield shopping centres to manage visitor numbers and safe distancing, and the centres will use cashless car parks and have hundreds of new bike racks.

Around 90% of stores are expected to reopen at Liverpool One, with social distancing signage and markers in place throughout the complex.

London’s famous Covent Garden will have a one-way system in place when its Market Building reopens, restaurants will be open for takeaway only, and a new public seating area has been created in the piazza.

The city’s Spitalfields Traders Market will reopen initially with 50 stalls, half the number it had pre-lockdown, and will use a one-way system marked out with floor vinyls and stencils.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know