Boris Johnson addressing the nation

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a national lockdown and instructed people to stay at home to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives, with the new rules expected to remain in place until the middle of February.

Effective from today (5 January), the new rules mean that all non-essential stores will be forced to close and clinically extremely vulnerable people have been advised to shield again. This could affect mobility stores whose customer base is largely made up of vulnerable individuals.

According to the UK Government, the decision to initiate a new national lockdown follows a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country. The PM says that hospitals are now under more pressure than they have been at any other point throughout the pandemic.

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This “drastic” jump in cases has been attributed to the new, more contagious variant of COVID-19, which scientists have confirmed is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible.

On 4 January, there were 26,626 COVID-19 patients in hospital in England, government figures indicate, representing a sharp increase of over 30 percent in one week. The government adds that the April 2020 hospital admissions peak has now been surpassed by 40 percent.

The case rate in England up to 29 December was 478.5 per 100k, three times higher than on 1 December when the case rate was 151.3. Furthermore, on 3 Jan, 454 deaths were reported, with 4,228 over the last 7 days – a 24 percent increase on the previous seven days, government statistics show.

These troublesome statistics prompted the four UK Chief Medical Officers to recommend that the COVID threat level should move from level four to level five, indicating that if action is not taken, NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new transmissible variant of coronavirus means that another national lockdown is “sadly necessary”.

Under the new lockdown rules, people will only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic necessities (including for vulnerable people); go to work if home working isn’t viable; exercise with their household (or support bubble) or one other person within their local area; meet their support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary; seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm; and to attend education or childcare – for those eligible.

All primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning under the new restrictions, except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

It also means that a raft on businesses deemed non-essential will be forced to close, including hospitality and personal care services, entertainment venues, zoos, indoor and outdoor sports facilities, and non-essential stores. A full list of which businesses are forced to shut during the lockdown can be found here

However, mobility shops are amongst the businesses deemed ‘essential’ by the government and will be permitted to remain open during the lockdown.

Throughout the lockdowns in 2020, mobility retailers were unclear as to whether they were classed as ‘essential businesses’ by the UK Government. In the lists of essential retailers, mobility and access stores were omitted, leaving them uncertain as to whether they could stay open.

At the beginning of November 2020, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) released a statement to reinforce the importance of mobility stores, championing the significant role retailers in the industry play in ensuring vulnerable people’s safety and independence.

At the time, Simon Festing, CEO of the BHTA, said: “The BHTA strongly supports the wish of many of our member companies to remain open for business as far as possible, whilst upholding COVID-guidelines.

“Many of the products that our members sell are essential to ensuring vulnerable people can remain safe and independent in their own homes, therefore reducing the pressure on our NHS and social services. It is the BHTA’s understanding that, as part of the health and care supply chain, equipment for disabled people and the elderly is considered to be ‘essential’ and, therefore, retailers are permitted to operate during the lockdown. This must be under the strictest of COVID-Secure measures to ensure the safety of staff and consumers, for example, by the use of appointments.”

Then, at the end of November, after sustained lobbying by retailers and the BHTA to local MPs and government, the mobility retail sector was formally included in the government’s “essential” business list.

However, under the new nationwide lockdown, the government is advising clinically extremely vulnerable people to begin shielding again. This could prove difficult for mobility retailers who remain open during the lockdown but might not get as many customers coming into their stores due to them being advised to remain at home.

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