Retailers could be able to reopen for business as early as 12 April

·2-min read

Retailers could be allowed to open their businesses again as early as 12 April, the government has announced.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the news to the House of Commons, saying that the reopening of retail would be part of the second step out of England's lockdown.

Progress on the next steps out of lockdown in England will depend on meeting four tests: successful vaccine programme, evidence of vaccine efficacy, keeping infection rates low enough to keep the pressure off the NHS, and an assessment of the threat of new variants.

But, despite encouraging signs, the government has said the "stay at home" message will remain in England for now.

The first phase includes the reopening of schools and colleges on 8 March, with an extra set of moves on 29 March, including outdoor sport and leisure facilities.

The second step - to begin no earlier than five weeks later - would include:

  • Non-essential retail

  • Indoor leisure (including gyms)

  • Outdoor attractions such as zoos, drive-in cinemas, and theme parks

  • Personal care businesses

  • Outdoor hospitality

  • Domestic overnight stays

  • Non-essential international travel will still be banned

An announcement will be made at least seven days in advance.

The final step would take place from 21 June at the earliest, with remaining restrictions on social contact lifted, larger events able to go ahead and nightclubs finally reopening, according to the government's road map.

Mr Johnson promised a summer that would be "very different and incomparably better" for businesses, many of which have struggled through a year of pandemic restrictions.

GDP shrank by 9.9% in 2020, and despite £280bn in government financial support, the number of employees on payroll fell by 828,000 between February and December last year.

Included in that is an increase in the unemployment rate among those aged 18 to 24 - from 10.5% in the three months to February 2020 to 13.2% in the three months to November 2020.

Follow live coverage on Sky News as the PM addresses the House of Commons at 3.30pm and lead a Downing Street news conference at 7pm

Latest data from Springboard showed that footfall in UK retail destinations was up by 6.8% last week compared to the week before - the fifth consecutive positive week.

But it still remains 62.1% lower than at the same time last year.

The British Retail Consortium said in December that thousands more jobs could be at risk - in an industry already devastated by months of pandemic disruption.

It criticised the government's "stop-start approach" as "deeply unhelpful" and joined other groups in calling for an extension of a business rates holiday to help struggling firms.