High street shops, department stores and shopping centres are set to reopen on June 15 in the biggest easing of the lockdown since coronavirus hit Britain, Boris Johnson announced on Monday night.
The Prime Minister said outdoor markets and car showrooms would be the first to open no earlier than June 1 provided they had social distancing measures in place to protect consumers from the risk of coronavirus infection.
This will be followed two weeks later by all other non-essential retail including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, together with tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets.
The Cabinet also discussed proposals to relax social distancing rules by the end of next month that would enable families to meet up outdoors for social gatherings such as garden parties, picnics and barbecues.
Speaking at the Number 10 press conference, Mr Johnson said he was putting the retail sector on “notice” that progress in reducing transmission rates meant they could reopen stores provided the Government’s five tests were met.
He said he was also publishing new safety guidance to give the stores three weeks to introduce measures to protect customers who will be returning more than two months after the shops shut their doors for lockdown.
The Government will take new powers to ensure compliance with the new guidance which will be enforced by local councils with fines and jail sentences of up to two years for persistent breaches.
“I want people to be confident that they can shop safely provided they follow social distancing rules at all premises,” said the Prime Minister.
Shops will be required to store returned items for 72 hours before putting them back out on the shop floor to minimise the risk of infection.
Protective coverings will have to be placed on large items that can be touched by the public such as beds or sofas.
Any objects and surfaces that are touched regularly will have to be frequently cleaned including self-checkouts, trolleys, coffee machines and betting terminals.
Stores will also be expected to put safety posters in windows explaining the need for social distancing.
This will include operating similar protective measures as the supermarkets and DIY stores including “socially distanced” queuing on pavements, one way systems in stores to minimise the risk of infection, glass protection, contactless payment and click and collect schemes.
Hairdressers, nail bars and beauty salons, pubs, clubs and restaurants will, however, remain closed until at least July, because the Government says the risk of transmission is higher because of greater person-to-person contact over longer periods.
Mr Johnson said the proposed move to phase two easing of stores in England out of lockdown – expected to be confirmed on Thursday – was possible because “the key indicators are heading in the right direction.”
“The daily number of deaths is down, the number of new cases is down, the infection rate is falling and R has not risen above one,” he added. “Because of the progress we are making, I can put the British people on notice of changes we intend to make as we move into step two.”
Figures released by the Prime Minister showed the number of daily deaths had dropped to 121, bringing the total to 36,914 since the beginning of the outbreak.
Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1 June because like garden centres, scientists say the risk of transmission of the virus is lower outdoors and car salesrooms tend to have more space.
Mr Johnson confirmed it would coincide with the “intention” to reopen nurseries, and year one and six classes in primary schools.
“These are careful but deliberate steps on the road to rebuilding our country and we can only take these steps thanks to what we have already achieved together,” he added.
Responding to the announcement, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We welcome the announcement of the Government’s road map for reopening a broader range of shops next month, which provides much needed clarity on the route ahead.
“Safety is the fundamental concern for all retailers and they have been working hard to implement the necessary measures to operate safely over the past weeks.
“Now that we know which shops can open and when, retailers can begin communicating their plans with their workforces and customers. The industry stands ready to play its part in getting the economy moving again.”