The hugely symbolic landmark will boost hopes that the West End’s second Covid Christmas will be rescued by a late surge of shoppers with six weeks of spending still to come.
Over the week footfall was 25 per cent down on two years ago, still a strong showing compared with the rest of the year, which is 58 per cent down overall.
The strength of the recovery was further underlined by spending figures showing sales in October at 73 per cent of 2019 levels. Around two thirds of the spending was by domestic visitors, up from around half in the pre-pandemic era.
Earlier this month West End bosses appealed to Londoners to spend in the capital’s shops, restaurants, bars and attractions to make up for a shortfall in foreign visitors.
NWEC chief executive Jace Tyrrell said: “Saturday’s figures marked a major milestone - the first time since the start of the pandemic that we have surpassed 2019’s footfall levels.
“It’s now vital that we maintain this momentum in order to give the West End the support it so desperately needs in the run up to Christmas. We are calling on all of the capital’s residents to come and support the one in 10 Londoners that work in our district and head out early to enjoy their Christmas shopping, the dazzling lights, and all that the West End has to offer this season.”
Westminster council leader Rachael Robathan, said: “It is really encouraging to see the rise in footfall figures. Our traders have endured a grim 18 months and this Christmas is critical for them.
“But we need to ensure this trend keeps going in the right direction and the council will do everything it can - making the City as safe as possible, reminding everyone of all all the attractions they can see and pushing the Government to introduce an online sales tax to create a level playing field.
“I am also today renewing our call for the return of tax free shopping - we want overseas visitors snapping up good buys here in London, not being lured by other European capitals.”
The Christmas lights on 20 streets in the West End were switched on simultaneously on Friday to kick start the festive season.
With one million LED lights illuminated it is said to be the world’s largest Christmas light switch-on.