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As non-essential shops opened their doors on June 15 following the all-clear from the government, the new normal now consists of strict shopping guidelines to comply with social distancing measures and a customer service journey distinctively different to that of pre-lockdown. As part of the three-step Covid-19 recovery strategy, the retail sector is now able to open its doors; however, high-risk sectors such as hospitality and personal care are still on the waiting list.

Non-essential retail businesses which have restarted trading are required to comply with Covid-19 secure guidelines to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and protect public health. This consists of enforcing a structured queuing system and ensuring that shoppers maintain a two-metre distance.

Social distancing in practice

Many small businesses who have taken the financial hit as a result of the coronavirus shutdown will be on unstable footing until trading resumes and the two-metre rule is relaxed to allow for more customers to physically shop in store at any one time. In practical terms, non-essential shopping may require longer browsing time over an essential shop.

Despite the heads up from the government, a selective number of shops are choosing to stay closed due to stock shortages, limited staff and uncertainty around being able to comply with Covid-19 secure guidelines. Due to lack of space and resources, smaller non-essential retail businesses may find it difficult to adopt proposed measures which include:

  • Adjusting store layout to minimise overcrowding
  • Installing screens/barriers to reduce contact between employees
  • Stagger shift times to reduce contact
  • Organise floor markings to illustrate 2-metre distance and one-way system

Employers will be required to display a notice showing that Covid-19 secure guidelines have been followed. This includes confirming that a Covid-19 risk assessment has been carried out and the results of which have been communicated with employees. Steps include enforcing hygiene procedures, taking reasonable steps to allow employees to work from home, maintaining a 2-metre distance and where a 2-metre distance can’t be met, mitigating transmission risk to the best of your ability.

In addition to the five steps to working safely, the government have set out detailed guidance for the following sectors:

  • Construction and outdoor work
  • Factories, plants and warehouses
  • Labs and research facilities
  • Offices and contact centres
  • Other people’s homes
  • Restaurants (takeaway & delivery)
  • Shops & branches
  • Vehicles

As sectors stretch out of hibernation, customer-facing businesses and non-customer facing businesses will be required to train staff members on the latest Covid-19 guidelines in the workplace which will be subject to change for the foreseeable future. Concentrated guidance has been given on workforce management, such as staggering shift patterns to minimise employee contact, regulating work-related travel and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in the workplace.

Sectors on pause during Covid-19

According to data released by Real Business Rescue, part of Begbies Traynor Group, the top 5 sectors in distress for Q1 were Bars & Restaurants (22.5%), Hotels & Accommodation (20.2%), Utilities (20.0%), Sports & Health Clubs (19.2%) and Goods & Beverages (18.2%). The results for Q2 are expected to illustrate a further decline in these sectors due to the Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing measures.

As just a fraction of Bars & Restaurants resume trading by partnering with food delivery services, the Hotels & Accommodation sector remains closed, making it inevitable for distress levels in this industry to rocket.

The BBPA (British Beer & Pub Association), the trade association representing breweries and pubs, are campaigning for the reduction of the two-metre rule to one, as without doing so, only a third of pubs in the UK will be able to reopen. The BBPA has warned that if the rules cannot be relaxed, many businesses already hanging by a thread will be forced to make substantial job losses or explore exit routes to manage the risk.

The next sector reopening is on July 4 which is the provisional date for pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, cinemas and hotels to open their doors, providing they meet social distancing guidelines. As businesses find new ways to operate in a low-risk way, government support such as bounce back loans and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILs) can help boost cash flow until trade resumes at a stronger rate.

If you are a business in need of restructuring or turnaround support, contact Ian McCulloch, partner at Begbies Traynor Preston on 01772 202 000.

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