Britain to permit opening of non-essential shops from Monday

Zoos, safari parks and drive-in cinemas to open amid concerns for toll taken on pupils

All non-essential shops in Britain will be allowed to reopen from next Monday but restaurants and bars will have to wait until next month before they can offer outdoor service.

Zoos, safari parks and drive-in cinemas will also be able to reopen from next week but the government has abandoned plans to bring all primary school children back to classes before the summer break.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons that the government still hoped to bring all children back to school by September and for next year's state exams to go ahead.

“I know that students who are due to take exams in 2021 will have experienced considerable disruption to their education this year, and we are committed to doing all we can to minimise the effects of this,” he said.


“While these are the first steps, they are the best way to ensure that all children can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”

MPs expressed concern about the impact on poorer children of missing out on six months of education and Labour said the government should continue to provide free school meals throughout the summer.

Disadvantaged children

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee, was among those calling for a greater focus on the impact of missed classes on disadvantaged children.

“Why can we turn a blind eye to thousands of demonstrators and campaign for pubs and garden centres to open, yet it is so hard to reopen our schools? We know that about 700,000 disadvantaged children are not doing school homework and 700,000 do not have proper access to computers for the internet, so what are the government doing to help those disadvantaged children to learn again and avoid an epidemic of educational poverty? Can we have a long-term plan for a catch-up premium for education to look after those left-behind children?” he said.

Reptile houses

Boris Johnson is expected to announce the latest easing of the lockdown on Wednesday, allowing zoos and safari parks to open if they impose social distancing measures. Indoor facilities such as reptile houses will remain closed and cafes will be able to offer takeaway services only.

“People are continuing to make huge sacrifices to reduce the spread of coronavirus and avoid a second spike, but we know it is tough and where we can safely open up more attractions, and it is supported by the science, we will do so,” a Downing Street official said.  “This is by necessity a careful process, but we hope the reopening of safari parks and zoos will help provide families with more options to spend time outdoors, while supporting the industry caring for these incredible animals.”

Labour's shadow business minister Lucy Powell welcomed the decision to allow non-essential shops to reopen but said it was imperative that staff should be kept safe.

“Many challenges remain for our high streets. Ministers must decide on clear guidelines for hospitality businesses reopening as soon as possible so bars, pubs, restaurants and cafes can have certainty,” she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times