Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech to the nation on Sunday (May 10th), outlining a new Covid-19 alert system in England. While the first step of reducing lockdown restrictions includes getting people back to work and allowing people to exercise outside more than once a day, the second phase involves the re-opening of shops, including fashion, gift and book retailers.

This is set to take place from June 1st, when primary schools will begin taking back students from Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 as well.

While the plans indicate non-essential stores will be able to open their doors from June, this will depend on the size of the premises, if it has an outdoor space, and how it can maintain social distancing for its customers and staff members.

The outcome for these stores will largely depend on the success of re-opening garden centres with strict social distancing measures later this week. This means customers will have to remain two metres apart at all times. Shop owners might also have to limit the number of customers in their stores, install temporary barriers, introduce clear signage to explain these measures, put down markings to show correct queuing etiquette and one-way systems, fit cleaning stations, only take cashless purchases and set up panels to protect staff at tills.

Garden centres will join the list of essential stores that are allowed to be open until the second phase begins. These also include supermarkets, newsagents, pet shops, Post Offices, banks, market stalls selling food and groceries, pharmacies, bicycle shops, garages, car rentals, petrol stations, health stores, home and hardware retailers, off-licences, and laundrettes and dry cleaners.

Chief executive of the British Retail Consortium Helen Dickinson said: “The last few weeks have provided many retailers with invaluable experience of operating in line with government and Public Health England guidance, protecting consumers and staff, and these lessons will be shared with other parts of the industry to facilitate safe reopening of stores once government is ready to move to the next phase.”

She added she is “confident … the industry can get the majority of operations up and running again safely”.

However, head of unions Usdaw, Unison, Unite and the GMB wrote a letter to the Observer expressing their concern about encouraging retail employees to return to work.

“We need to ensure that ministers have listened and that we stay safe and save lives at work too,” the letter stated.

It went on to say many members have lost their lives “transporting people and goods, protecting the public and caring for the vulnerable”.

Ms Dickinson told the BBC said practical measures need to be put into place to ensure the safety of both customers and staff, otherwise retailers “shouldn’t open”. These include staggering shift times and controlling the number of people in store.

She also noted that restrictions need to be lifted in other areas too, including schools, as this will enable staff with children to return to work without having to worry about childcare.

For added security for retail employees, it could be prudent to invest in steel security grilles and doors, particularly if shoppers begin to get angry about continued restrictions.