New concerns have been raised by business groups across the UK as stringent measures to contain a new strain of COVID-19 were announced last night.
Helen Dickinson CEO of the British Retail Consortium called the measures “hugely regrettable news,” while the Confederation for British Industry said it was a “real kick in the teeth for many businesses.”
Dickinson continued: “Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores Covid-secure for customers and staff, and SAGE’s advice has said throughout that closing non-essential retail has a minimal impact on the spread of the virus.
“The consequences of this decision will be severe. For businesses, the government’s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful – this decision comes only two weeks after the end of the last national lockdown and right in the middle of peak trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery.
She said that business face the prospect of losing £2bn ($2.7bn) per week in sales for the third time this year, and many thousands of jobs could be at risk.
“The government will need to offer additional financial support to help these businesses get back on an even keel – an extension to business rates relief in 2021 is the best place to start,” she concluded.
On Saturday afternoon, UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced stricter COVID-19 measures in London, the South East and East of England amid concerns about the spread of a new strain of the virus which may be up to 70% more transmissible.
He introduced a fourth tier of coronavirus restrictions in the regions, as well as unveiling tighter plans around households gathering during Christmas.
In a press conference on Saturday, with England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, he said: “Residents must stay at home, with limited exemptions. People must work from home where they can.”
Londoners make up around 13.4% of the UK’s total population, according to European Commission data. However London’s economy generated almost a quarter of the UK’s total output last year, responsible for 23.6% of GDP.
COVID-19 rules were due to be relaxed across the nation between 23 and 27 December, with up to three households able to meet across the five days.
Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, echoed Dickinson, saying: “Wherever infections rise, it’s right that the Government takes the necessary steps to protect public health.
“But news that large swathes of the South East will come under new tier 4 restrictions will be a real kick in the teeth for many businesses already struggling badly.
“While much of the impact of tier 4 will be on people’s family lives, many retailers were counting on clawing back some lost ground after a really hard year.”
Fell noted that support for businesses must reach firms swiftly, continuing that a new perspective on jobs and business support will be needed in January.
“All efforts must be made to accelerate the roll out of mass rapid testing and the vaccine so they can start to have an impact,” he said.
Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?