Shoppers and drinkers in the U.K. took the streets overnight and lined up to get into the country’s retailers, pubs and hair salons, which were allowed to open for the first time in three months on Monday (April 12). Although capacity and other restrictions are still in place, and the government is urging citizens to still be vigilant and use caution, local news reports pegged a tripling in foot traffic data that started from the stroke of midnight.
“I urge everyone to continue to behave responsibly and remember, ‘hands, face, space and fresh air’ to suppress COVID as we push on with our vaccination program,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson, per a Reuters report.
While the U.K. vaccination rate is up — with more than half of adults having received the shot — and COVID deaths and infections are down over 90 percent, Johnson called the reopening a major step for hundreds of thousands of shuttered businesses that have endured three rounds of opening and closing. However, he warned that the coronavirus is still a threat.
A Retail Relief Rally
Compared to the U.S., the U.K.’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the deadly disease were much stricter. The measures saw the world’s fifth-largest economy drop almost 10 percent last year, marking its biggest contraction in 300 years and underscoring the need for a rebound.
By early accounts, British consumers are more than ready to do their part, with at least one local retail analytics firm pegging the gain in foot traffic in retail shops from a week ago at 218 percent, while the flow of customers to shopping malls rose over 300 percent.
London salon owner Maggie Grieve told Reuters she was thrilled to finally be able to work through a long list of backed-up appointments in her shop. “I’m so excited to see my clients, to see how they are and give them that feeling that they get from having had their hair done,” Grieve said. “Today is going to feel like every hairdresser’s birthday. The well-wishers have already come in: emails, texts, WhatsApps, even neighbors in the street wishing [us] luck and joy. It feels great. Now I can’t wait to get to the pub,” she added.
Other anecdotal reports suggest a similar “roaring 20s”-like surge, with people lining up to get into London Primark and JD Sport locations, while department store chain John Lewis reported a spike in demand for housewares to entertain friends, as well as demand for dresses by consumers eager to wear something more fashionable than gym clothes.
As much as Grieve and countless other Brits are anxious to finally be able to shop, work out in a gym and have a drink and socialize in the country’s famed pubs, they’ll have to do so in outdoor spaces at least until the middle of May.
The lifting of COVID restrictions is unfolding differently across the country, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland deploying slightly different and more staggered reopening strategies.
In any case, consumers and business owners alike are hoping that this marks the end of the lockdown era, with retailers anxious to reap a windfall from an estimated $1 billion of additional savings that Brits have amassed during the crisis.
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