Analysts have reported an “alarming uplift” in visits to shops last weekend as the government appealed for people to obey the UK’s lockdown restrictions.
Figures from retail data specialist Springboard showed an 81% decline in footfall last week compared to the same period last year, as all but essential services were shut in the fight against coronavirus.
But there were widespread reports of people ignoring advice to stay home as the weather improved, with spring sunshine bolstering temperatures through Saturday and Sunday.
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Springboard noted visits to shops rising by 9.5% on Saturday compared with the same day a week ago.
The figure rose by 21.3% on the Sunday, despite repeated government warnings on the health and safety implications of visiting public spaces.
The report said: “The increase on Sunday was particularly noticeable in London (+51.4%), in other large cities (+32%) and in coastal towns across the UK (29.6%) which are key locations for leisure trips but less significant for essential shopping.”
It added: “With the warm weather set to continue over the four-day Easter weekend, this brings into question what further measures the government will need to enforce to curtail this movement.
“With the closure of all but essential stores, the four-day bank holiday weekend will be unrecognisable in what is usually the most important trading period for retailers outside of Christmas.”
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Ministers have threatened to tighten lockdown restrictions and ban outdoor exercise unless the public observes the social distancing rules – designed to help lower infection rates and protect the NHS.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News on Sunday: “The vast majority of people are following the public health advice, which is absolutely critical, and staying at home.
“But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that – it’s quite unbelievable frankly to see that there are some people who are not following the advice.”
Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading – here is what you can and can’t do. If you think you have the virus, don’t go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn’t available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.