Independent retailers are calling for more clarity from the government on the behaviour expected from shoppers following the lifting of Covid-related restrictions in England this week.
From Thursday (February 24), people with Covid will no longer be legally required to self-isolate as part of the “Living with Covid” policy. Routine contact tracing will end, but guidance will remain in place for those who test positive to stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five full days. People in contact with someone with Covid will no longer be advised to self-isolate or take daily tests.
From April 1, employers will no longer have to explicitly consider Covid in their health and safety risk assessments. At the same time, Covid tests will no longer be free for most people.
In response to the changes, British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) chief executive Andrew Goodacre said: “In general, we welcome the further reduction in restrictions and we hope the science supports such moves.
“With consumer confidence being so fragile due to the financial squeeze, to gain the maximum positive impact from “Living with Covid” we must have clear messages on the behaviours expected and absolute clarity on things like face coverings. We also need clear messages on the isolation rules, especially for retail workers, and are concerned that free testing will no longer be available from April 1. Employers have a duty of care and need to know if they are required to provide testing facilities to employees – if yes, then the kits should be free to employers.”
He continued: “I doubt that shops will remove the perspex screens just yet, because they are largely unobtrusive and may be needed in the future, and we need reassurance that we can look forward with positivity, whilst accepting that Covid has not gone away.
“Removal of Covid restrictions should be positive for retail and the high street in general. This is an opportunity for the government to give a helping hand to retailers by ensuring that the messaging and directives to the general public are clear and unambiguous. By doing this there is a better chance that consumer confidence in high streets will return and make 2022 the real year of revival for retail. Let’s not forget that 75% of all retail sales still occur in shops and this could go even higher with the right support.”
The removal of restrictions according to this timescale only applies to England. Scotland’s legal Covid-19 restrictions, including the wearing of face coverings, will end on March 21, although people will still be advised to wear masks in shops.
In Wales, a gradual easing of Covid restrictions is underway but face coverings currently remain compulsory in shops. In Northern Ireland, legal measures have been replaced by guidance, such as recommending face masks are still worn in certain public settings.