The new rule, to help retailers whose profits have been butchered by lockdowns, is expected to start on Monday April 12. This is the earliest day that non-essential shops in England are allowed to reopen under the Government’s roadmap out of the latest lockdown. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that stores will be able to trade for longer on every day apart from Sundays, when it is thought the current law of six hours maximum will still apply. During the rest of the week, shoppers will be able to avoid the crowds at peak times and travel to the shops when public transport isn’t stuffed full with passengers.
The announcement is likely to thrill both the public and retailers, including sellers of fashion, homeware and electronic goods, which have been shut since January.
Mr Jenrick said the rule was temporary –although he did not say how long it would be in place.
He added: “To support businesses to reopen and recover, I’ve extended measures to allow shops to stay open for longer.
“This is part of a package of support to help reopen our shops and high streets safely – backed by £56million.
“This will provide a much-needed boost for many businesses – protecting jobs, reducing pressure on public transport and supporting people and communities to continue to visit their high streets safely and shop locally.”
The Government has also announced it will extend flexible working hours on construction sites, and allow food deliveries to supermarkets over longer time periods. Other measures in the package include letting pubs and restaurants put up marquees to help increase outdoor seating capacity in a Covid-secure way.
The British Retail Consortium welcomed the announcements.
Its property policy adviser Dominic Curran said: “Retailers want to ensure that customers and colleagues are as safe as possible upon reopening and are able to access the products and services they need. This is why we welcome the announcement of extended opening hours, allowing people to avoid busier periods when they go shopping.
“Retailers have invested hundreds of millions in making their stores Covid-secure, implementing hygiene measures, Perspex screens, social distancing and more.”
Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Asso-ciation, also praised the Government’s trading hour extension. He said: “The decision is sensible and in
line with actions taken after previous lockdowns.
“We hope that Government departments take other steps to bring consumers back to the high streets to help people keep safe with the provision of marshals, clear signage and maintaining access to the shops with free car parking.” Local planning authorities have been told to promote the temporary relaxation of hours.
Mr Jenrick said: “The Government would like local planning authorities to continue to take a positive and flexible approach to planning enforcement action to support economic recovery and support social distancing while it remains in place.
“Local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.”
The announcement follows suggestions from the Prime Minister that the Government is considering allowing entry into pubs only if customers can prove their Covid-19 status.
Speaking during a visit to a nursery in Greenford in London on Thursday, he said: “I do think there is going to be a role for certification.”
There is no indication yet if these certificates might be considered for other sectors, such as nightclubs and restaurants.
But Mr Johnson then tried to ease anger from Conservative MPs and businesses who slammed the plan as “unworkable”. He said any certificates would only be used when everyone has been offered a jab.
Pubs, restaurants and brick- and-mortar retailers have struggled following repeated closures due to lockdowns. Millions of people have shifted to shopping online since the first lockdown last March, with many experts fearing the trend could be permanent.
In a bid to bridge the gap between online and physical stores, the Government allowed retailers to extend their opening hours in the run-up to Christmas, with Primark, John Lewis, Ikea and Currys PC World all taking part.