High street shops can start reopening next month, Boris Johnson has said, as he moves to ease lockdown restrictions amid a huge public row over his top adviser.
The prime minister said outdoor markets and showrooms will be able to start trading again in England from 1 June – so long as they keep customers safe.
All other non-essential retailers – including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets – can follow suit two weeks later, from 15 June.
Employers will face “spot checks” to make sure they are implementing social distancing, and have been told they must complete a risk assessment after consultation with trade unions and workers.
Firms have been told to consider a number of measures to reassure customers and staff, including:
• Placing a poster in their windows to demonstrate awareness of the guidance
• Storing returned items for 72 hours before putting them back out on the shop floor
• Placing protective coverings on large items touched by the public such as beds or sofas
• Frequently cleaning objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, including self-checkouts, trolleys, coffee machines and betting terminals
However, not all businesses are pleased with the announcement. The British Association of Independent Retailers said many small shops had been preparing to open from next week, adding: “It is therefore a little disappointing for the smaller retailers not to be able to open until June 15, especially as they can make it safe to do so.”
Mr Johnson announced the next steps in his plan to “unlock the lockdown” at Monday’s Downing Street news briefing, nine weeks since the strict “stay at home” measures began.
The prime minister also hinted he accepted mistakes could have been made about handling the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, which has so far killed 36,914 people.
He said it was “absolute folly” for any government to say “it hasn’t learnt anything as it goes along”.
Pressing on with his bid to steer England out of lockdown, Mr Johnson said the loosening of restrictions for non-essential shops is “contingent upon progress” of lowering COVID-19 infection rates and ensuring there will be no second peak.
“These are careful but deliberate steps on the road to rebuilding our country,” he announced.
“And we can only take these steps thanks to what we have so far achieved together.”
The government said the plans had been outlined to the devolved administrations, who will make their own decisions about how to ease lockdown.
All four UK nations are loosening measures to allow people more freedom, but they do differ from each other as they make their own decisions on health.