UK government considers forcing non-essential shops to close – reports | Business
The UK government is reportedly considering forcing the closure of all non-essential shops in an escalation of measures to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
It comes as McDonald’s, Nando’s, Costa Coffee, Primark, Debenhams and Waterstones joined the growing list of restaurant chains and retailers closing all their UK outlets as the number of confirmed Covid-19 infections in the UK hit 5,683 and claimed 281 lives.
“The Govt considering next steps like closing non-essential retail or whether to start treating people flouting the stay at home advice as acting against the law – all being discussed – huge decisions, nothing final,” the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted on Monday. A government spokesperson did not immediately comment.
Many European countries and US states have already forced the closure of all shops, with the exception of those deemed essential such as supermarkets, other food retailers and pharmacies.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has repeatedly called on the public to stay at home whenever possible and only venture out for essentials such as food or medicine. On Friday, he ordered all pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and other venues to close. Restaurants and cafes were told they could continue to offer takeaway food and drink.
People have been warned against any congregation in groups, even outdoors. Some have been ignoring this advice, prompting calls for Johnson to take stronger action, including closing all non-essential shops and calling on the police to disperse any gatherings.
Costa Coffee announced on Monday that 2,700 of its stores would close on Monday night. The chain said it would try to keep a number of its coffee shops within hospitals open and would give free coffee to NHS workers for the next two weeks.
“At Costa Coffee our number one priority is the safety of our store teams and customers,” Costa said. “As the need to support social distancing increases, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our stores from this evening, Monday 23 March.”
Debenhams also announced on Monday it was closing all of its 140 department stores in the UK and Ireland. The high street chains Card Factory and Moss Bros followed with total closures.
It comes as the latest figures show that the number of people visiting the high street fell by 31% last week, compared to the same week a year earlier. The Springboard footfall figure for the week of 15-21 March was down 41% compared to a week earlier. In central London the decline was 63.3%, compared to the same week in 2019.
Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “The annual change represented an unprecedented decline in retail footfall that was three times greater than the worst result we have ever previously recorded.”
McDonald’s and Nando’s announced on Sunday that all of their respective 1,350 and 400 stores would close.
Paul Pomroy, tehe chief executive of McDonald’s UK and Ireland, said: “Over the last 24 hours, it has become clear that maintaining safe social distancing while operating busy takeaway and drive-through restaurants is increasingly difficult. This is not a decision we are taking lightly but one made with the wellbeing and safety of our employees in mind as well as in the best interests of our customers.”
Nando’s decided to temporarily close all of its restaurants across the UK and Ireland during the course of Sunday to help limit the spread of Covid-19.
A spokesperson said: “Eat in, takeaway and delivery for customers will all stop until further notice and our remaining food will be given away to those who need it most across the community.”
In a statement to the stock market on Monday, Primark’s owner, Associated British Foods, said all of its 376 stores in 12 countries would until further notice. There are 189 Primark stores in the UK.
Waterstones said it would close its 280 UK branches from Monday. Only hours previously its chief executive, James Daunt, had said the bookstore chain was “no different to a supermarket or a pharmacy” and would stay open during the coronavirus shutdown.
Starbucks and Pret a Manger announced the closure of all their UK stores on Saturday.
The fashion and homewares chain Laura Ashley, which warned last week that rescue talks had been thwarted by the coronavirus outbreak, formally appointed administrators on Monday. It will close 70 stores permanently on Monday, with the potential loss of 721 jobs, but 77 shops “will be open as normal” .
Other chains to have announced the closure of all stores include: