Greggs shuts 2,000 stores after social distancing guidelines ignored

By Simon Neville, PA City Editor

Greggs has said it will close its entire store estate by the end of business on Tuesday after bosses said operating as a takeaway was not going far enough to ensure proper social distancing.

The company added its name to a growing list of companies voluntarily closing stores ahead of suggestions the Government may step up action and close all “non-essential” stores.

Wagamamas said it would also close its doors from 9pm on Monday, ending all takeaways and deliveries across its 150 sites.

Emma Woods, chief executive, said: “Due to the current situation, we have taken the decision to put down all of our chopsticks and temporarily close all sites across the UK for delivery and take-out until further notice.”

Fashion chain Next also said that it would close all 500 sites across the UK at 6pm on Monday and remain shut for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

It follows full closures by McDonald’s, Primark, John Lewis and Nando’s as social distancing measures come under scrutiny. Others remain open, including B&Q, which has reported an increase in business, as families look to home improvements while in self-isolation.

Greggs said the decision to close was an attempt to protect staff from the spread of the virus, and avoid crowds gathering for takeaways.

The company said: “Given the current and likely impacts of coronavirus we are now planning for the closure of our shop estate by close of business on Tuesday 24 March in order to protect our people and customers.”

It added: “In addition to increased hygiene and separation measures we converted all of our shops to provide a solely take-away service accepting card payments only and have been advising all customers to follow social distancing guidelines while waiting to be served.

“It is now clear that to protect our people and customers we need to go further and temporarily close our shops completely.”

Greggs also said a planned £40 million handout to shareholders and a share buying scheme have been shelved, adding “we intend to maintain employment of colleagues at full contract hours for as long as is practicable”.

The moves by Next and Greggs follows other big moves from companies including McDonald’s and Primark, which both announced full store closures over coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced calls for tougher restrictions especially in London, such as only allowing food stores and pharmacies to remain open.

But thousands of outlets pre-empted any decision by voluntarily closing their doors.

McDonald’s announced that it will close every single one of its restaurants in the UK and Ireland from 7pm on Monday, following concerns about maintaining safe social distancing.

There are approximately 1,300 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK and Ireland and the decision will affect 135,000 staff members.

Chief executive Paul Pomroy said the closures were because it had “become clear that maintaining safe social distancing whilst operating busy takeaway and Drive Thru restaurants [was] increasingly difficult”.

Late on Sunday evening, Nando’s said it would be closing more than 400 restaurants in the UK.

In a post on Twitter, the company said: “The health and safety of our customers and team is our highest priority.

“We have decided that the best course of action right now is to temporarily close our restaurants until further notice.

Restaurant chains that have closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak include Pizza Express, TGI Fridays and Bill’s.

Zizzi, Ask Italian and Prezzo were the first to implement temporary closures on Thursday, before a full closure of pubs and restaurants was announced by the Prime Minister.

Patisserie Valerie chief executive James Fleming said both its in-store and online services will also cease as of Monday.

“This is unprecedented and never have I had to make such difficult decisions,” he said.

“I do however genuinely believe that with the support and loyalty of our wonderful teams and guests, Patisserie Valerie will come back stronger and better than ever.”

Meanwhile, fashion retailers have also been hit by the coronavirus crisis.

On Sunday, Primark confirmed that it was closing all 189 of its UK stores, affecting around 37,000 jobs – though employees would be paid in full for the next 14 days, the company said.

Other clothing chains including Kurt Geiger, Topshop and New Look have announced mass store closures.

The John Lewis Partnership said it is the first time in its 155-year history that it will not open its shop doors for customers – but its online services will continue.

HMV closed its stores for trade at the end of Sunday, although customers could still order through the website, with Foyles and Waterstones both closing their doors at the end of trade on Monday.

Bosses at Cineworld were sent an open letter by a group of 800 staff who were made redundant after the cinema chain closed all its UK venues on Tuesday – causing pay cuts of up to 60% and scores of redundancies.

Card Factory decided to temporarily close all of its shops just three hours after announcing on Monday that it expects to “begin selectively closing stores”.

In a statement to investors, Card Factory said: “Further to our earlier announcement, we have decided to close temporarily all of our shops from the end of business today.

“We will keep this under continuous review and update further in due course.”