Coronavirus: Retailers warn government over sector’s reopening | Business News

Retailers have warned the government they will need several weeks’ notice to reactivate their operations and secure adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for shop staff as they seek to avoid a chaotic reopening of the sector.

Sky News has learnt that the British Retail Consortium (BRC), whose members employ 1.5m people across the UK, has written to Alok Sharma, business secretary, to highlight the logistical considerations facing the industry once lockdown COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

In the letter, Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, urged Mr Sharma to ensure that ministers express public support for non-food retailers’ return to trading in order “to stimulate consumer demand, reassure the workforce and avoid the confusion that existed immediately after the 23 March lockdown announcement”.

Shopping centre in Manchester is deserted shortly before coronavirus lockdown announcement from prime minister

Manchester shopping centre deserted

Retailers are awaiting any changes to guidance from the government about whether shopworkers will be asked to wear PPE, with the NHS already struggling to secure sufficient quantities of some equipment for frontline workers.

“If it will be a requirement for staff to wear any sort of PPE to work in stores, it will be necessary to make businesses aware of this several weeks in advance so that orders can be placed, and sufficient stock acquired,” Ms Dickinson wrote.

“We recognise that it will be complex to decide what can reopen when, with location, public transport, policing, and many other matters to be considered.

“Retailers are ready to be flexible and, in some instances, could potentially stagger, reduce or increase opening hours to support wider needs.”

Ms Dickinson added that the reactivation of retail supply chains, many of which are in the UK, would also take time to plan and implement.

Her letter to Mr Sharma highlights a major concern within the industry that ‘normal’ trading conditions will be indefinitely delayed as a result of the pandemic.

The York high street adapting to lockdown

It said a phased reopening for all large chains was almost inevitable because of the logistical demands.

A call is understood to have taken place on Wednesday morning between a number of retailers and George Eustice, the environment secretary, to discuss related issues.

The BRC chief warned: “It may be a fraught period as restrictions start to lift with some customers unwilling to return to stores because they perceive it is high risk, and staff reluctant to return to work for the same reason.”

Retailers have been amongst the businesses hardest-hit by the coronavirus crisis, although large supermarket chains have thrived as a result of soaring customer demand during the early stages of the pandemic.

Since the lockdown was announced in late March, Cath Kidston, Debenhams and Oasis and Warehouse Group have collapsed into administration – although all three companies had been struggling for some time.

The BRC’s latest letter to the government asked for continued openness to further financial assistance for the sector, including a possible extension to the employee furloughing scheme that is currently scheduled to expire at the end of June.

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