LONDON (Reuters) – London’s main shopping and entertainment district has predicted a muted final weekend of Christmas trading after customer traffic plunged on Thursday, with the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant keeping people at home.
The New West End Company, which represents 600 brands, restaurants and businesses in London’s West End, said footfall on Thursday was down by 7% from the previous week and down 32% from pre-pandemic figures.
Britain first expressed concern about the Omicron variant on Nov. 25. and on Dec. 9, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher COVID-19 restrictions in England, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes to slow the spread.
“With rising COVID cases dampening consumer confidence and a planned Tube strike looming on Saturday, we’re anticipating a muted final weekend of Christmas trading at a time when West End businesses should be enjoying a much needed boost,” CEO Jace Tyrrell said on Friday.
He joined calls for the government to provide temporary financial support to leisure businesses across the United Kingdom.
British retail sales rose faster than expected last month, helped by Black Friday discounts, early Christmas shopping and no lockdown restrictions that closed many shops last year, official figures showed on Friday.
However, Omicron has heightened fears over Christmas trading.
On Wednesday, consumer electricals retailer Currys said its market had softened in recent weeks, while on Thursday online fashion retailer Boohoo warned on annual profit.
(Reporting by James Davey, editing by Elizabeth Piper)