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Stampede to shops across Northern Ireland as early Christmas rush follows declaration of two-week lockdown

'Astronomical' rise in number of people on the streets as early Christmas rush follows Stormont Executive declaration of a two-week retail lockdown

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In a rush: Shoppers throng the streets of Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon

In a rush: Shoppers throng the streets of Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

In a rush: Shoppers throng the streets of Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon

Retail representatives have called on shoppers to stay safe as massive crowds of consumers are expected in towns and cities on the hunt for Christmas gifts this week before lockdown descends on Friday.

Retailers' representative Aodhan Connolly said the weekend just past had seen an "astronomical" surge in footfall in Northern Ireland's shops.

Many retailers will have to close for two weeks on Friday after the Executive agreed tough new anti-Covid measures last week.

Mr Connolly, who is the director of the NI Retail Consortium, said: "There's been an astronomical rise in footfall over the weekend.

"The official figures aren't in yet, but anecdotally what's been happening is very clear.

"It's been driven by shoppers trying to make Christmas as special as possible by getting gifts for their loved ones."

He said it was vital that shoppers kept to the well-known Covid-19 protections guidelines - not only for their own safety, but for the safety of shop staff too. It's really important - it's never been more important - that people remember to follow the regulations to keep themselves safe," he said.

"Shoppers must wear their face coverings, they need to keep their distance and to wash their hands as regularly as possible.

"The other thing is they should be kind to each other, and to the shop staff who are doing an amazing job in very difficult circumstances.

"One of the things we are also asking shoppers to do is to leave a bit of extra time for their shopping trip, because it helps them be under less pressure, and that's important.

"People need to keep calm and not feel under pressure. We want it to be as good a shopping experience as we can make it for everybody."

Shopping at the less busy times of the day would also help with social distancing, he said.

While there had been reports indicating there were still some people not adhering to the rules "most people are, and we want to thank them for that, so they know that we appreciate their efforts".

The retail sector advice came in the wake of Friday's warning from medical professionals about the potential infection risks of a mass Christmas shopping surge over the next few days.

In Belfast, the city's Chamber of Commerce said it was compiling a list of its retail members who will be open this week and also selling online, and called on shoppers to support local businesses during the crisis.

Chief executive of Belfast's Chamber of Commerce, former Stormont Economy Minister Simon Hamilton, said: "Our city's retailers are facing a tough time.

"Come into our city, enjoy our unique retail mix and support your city this Christmas."

East Belfast DUP MLA Joanne Bunting backed the Chamber's appeal to shoppers.

"If we're to have a city centre left at the end of all this, we should aim to help them now, where we can and look for them online during the lockdown," she said.

Glyn Roberts of Retail NI, which represents independent retailers, said his organisation had produced a five-point plan for shoppers to follow (see panel).

"With a surge in shopping on our high streets, we would urge shoppers to stay safe and follow the Executive guidance," he said.

"We also want to ask shoppers to make a special effort this week to support independent retailers that are being forced to close for two weeks from Friday."

Belfast Telegraph


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