Johnson orders shops to close to curb coronavirus spread

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor

Shops selling “non-essential” goods have been ordered to close as Boris Johnson took dramatic steps to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The draconian measures will be in place for at least three weeks and will also see the closure of libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.

The Prime Minister said people should not be going shopping except for essentials such as food and medicine.

Although that meant that food retailers and pharmacies would remain open, Mr Johnson said people should limit shopping trips and use delivery services where possible.

Online supermarkets appeared to buckle under the strain after the announcement with crashes occurring on the Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda websites.

In a sombre statement, Mr Johnson said: “To ensure compliance with the Government’s instruction to stay at home, we will immediately close all shops selling non-essential goods,​ including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.”

The guidance issued by the Government stated that hair, beauty and nail salons and outdoor and indoor markets – apart from food markets – would also be shut.

A series of retailers had already announced they were closing their doors, including John Lewis and Primark.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the move would disrupt people’s lives, businesses and jobs.

“I can assure you that we will keep these restrictions under constant review,” he said.

“We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.

“But at present there are just no easy options. The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost.”

The closure of shops was part of a wider package of restrictions which will could see people fined by the police for breaking the new rules.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said retailers understand the need for governments to “act quickly and decisively” over the coronavirus threat.

“The safety of customers and staff is paramount, which is why retailers have responded swiftly and positively to evolving government guidance on social distancing and other hygiene matters. Indeed, many retailers had gone further and already closed shops temporarily,” she said.

“Others have continued to provide essential products and services to their customers, both from physical stores and online. Any retailers that remain open will be following the very latest government public health guidance to ensure they do everything they can to ensure the safety of customers and staff.

“We must all be considerate of the needs of those around us, and respectful of the retail staff who are working round the clock to put food and other essential items on our shelves and into our homes.”