Coronavirus: Off-licences added to list of 'essential' retailers

Man choosing wineImage source, Getty Images

Off-licences have been added to the government's list of essential UK retailers allowed to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

The list was updated on Wednesday amid increasing reports supermarkets are selling out of some beers and wines.

A major pub chain has said "almost all" its business had gone to supermarkets.

The move came as bicycle and car parts retailer Halfords had to defend its decision to keep shops open.

The list of essential retailers put together by the Cabinet Office now includes "off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries".

Pubs and restaurants have been required to close under the new restrictions, prompting complaints from the head of Wetherspoons pub chain, Tim Martin, who said that most of the chain's trade had gone to supermarkets.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Wetherspoons CEO Tim Martin says much of his trade is going to the supermarkets

Exactly what qualifies as an "essential business" is causing confusion in some quarters.

The director general of the CBI business organisation Carolyn Fairbairn says many firms "do not know whether to stay open or to close".

She is asking the government clarify the situation for businesses.

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Halfords is covered by the essential retailers list. Boss Graham Stapleton said the chain had "an essential role to play in keeping the country moving".

Its Autocentre garages and mobile vans remain open, with plans for "partial store coverage" across its 446 shops.

The chain drew criticism after saying it would keep some stores open after being named by the government as an "essential provider of services".

#BoycottHalfords was trending on social media on Tuesday.

Some Twitter users cited concerns over a lack of protection for on-site workers while others, including MSP Fulton MacGregor, questioned whether the business should be open at all.

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In a trading update, the firm said: "We are committed to playing our part, but only if we can ensure the health and safety of our colleagues and customers."

It also said it had the "legal flexibility to remain open across the entire business".

'Vital support'

Mr Stapleton said his chain had a part to play "in providing vital support to emergency workers, fleet operations and the general population as they travel for essential supplies".

Halfords pointed out it was offering all NHS frontline workers a free 10-point car check during the coronavirus pandemic.

Image source, PA Media

It comes as the government announced it would grant drivers a six-month emergency MOT extension under new regulation due to come into force on 30 March to ensure "frontline workers to get to work".

Other bicycle firms such as Brompton Bicycle, a folding bike specialist, have lent bicycles to staff at hospitals in London to help them get to and from work.

And some people on social media supported Halfords' decision to stay open during the pandemic.

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High Street retailer Next has confirmed it's offering some staff a 20 per cent pay rise if they volunteer to go into stores to help pick online orders, despite government warnings to stay at home.

While all of its stores are closed to the public, the retailer says there are some items in its shops which have already been ordered and promised to online customers.

The retailer said a "very small group of volunteers" will pick the orders under "strict supervision and social distancing rules".

Essential retailers

After strict new restrictions were brought in by government earlier this week, it issued a list of “essential retailers”, such as Halfords, that are allowed to stay open. They include:

  • Supermarkets and other food shops
  • Pharmacies
  • Off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries
  • Petrol stations
  • Newsagents
  • Bicycle shops
  • Home and hardware stores
  • Launderettes and dry cleaners
  • Garages
  • Pet shops
  • Post offices
  • Banks

Dusting off old bikes

Trade industry bodies had previously said that bicycle retailers and repair shops had seen a spike in demand as people "clean the cobwebs off" their old bikes in an attempt to avoid public transport during the pandemic.

Jonathan Harrison of the Association of Cycle Traders told the BBC that "there had been an uplift in sales across the board, with larger retailers also reporting more 'entry-level' bikes going."

However, he pointed out that with more consumers staying in due to the new government restrictions, "it's difficult to know whether or not that trend will continue."