Christmas shoppers packed high streets and shopping centres just hours before England is plunged into a second lockdown.
City centres were heaving as many tried to make the most of shopping before all non-essential shops close for four weeks from tomorrow.
Many also flocked to pubs and restaurants before they close at 10pm until December 2 unless they offer takeaway services.
Pictures from up and down the country show huge queues of vehicles trying to get into shopping centre car parks in a last-ditch effort to stock up on items and Christmas presents.
The hectic scenes come as the UK’s coronavirus death toll soars by 492 – the highest daily increase since May 19.
But the continued rise of deaths and new Covid-19 infections didn’t appear to put shoppers off, with businesses such as Primark, Card Factory and Wilko all seeing large queues of people.
It was a similar story in Bolton, an area that was in the strictest local lockdown before tonight.
A drone photo shows hundreds of cars at the Middlebrook Retail Park in the town earlier today.
Social distancing rules added to the wait times.
The late surge for Christmas shopping saw retailers see a much-needed boost ahead of tomorrow’s national lockdown.
One department store said trade had been “fantastic”.
However, the last minute boost will do little to offset the devastating impact of the lockdown on hundreds of thousands of businesses.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research has said shutting the country down for at least a month from tomorrow will wipe £1.8billion off the value of the economy for every day it lasts.
Around 600,000 business premises in England will be required to close under the new national restrictions, according to property expert Altus Group.
Those include up to 362,855 non-essential retail shops.
In addition, 37,616 pubs, 1,036 wine bars, 26,984 restaurants and 14,207 cafes can only offer takeaway services.
The restrictions have also forced the temporary closure of nearly 20,000 hairdressers, beauty and nail salons, tattoo and massage parlours, and spas.
A number of retailers, including Currys PC World and toy shop chain The Entertainer, kept some branches open into the evening to cope with the rush.
Chris Geaves, chief executive of Sovereign Centros, which operates sites from Glasgow to Southampton and the giant MetroCentre complex in Gateshead, said the shopping centres had been “incredibly busy” in the last few days.
“People have thought ‘Crikey, I need to get out there shopping’,” he said.
“It’s very positive and anecdotally, footfall has been strong.”
Mr Geaves reckons retailers can still have a strong pre-Christmas trading period, as long as England does come out of lockdown on December 2 as planned.
Elsewhere, David Austin, boss of Austins Department Store in Newton Abbot, Devon, said: “We have had a very busy two or three days with people almost trying to get in all their Christmas shopping in a couple of days.
“It has been a fantastic and unexpected response. which has suddenly caught us.
“Everybody is trying to fit in a month’s shopping in a few days.”
Susan Young, manager of the Cornmill Shopping Centre in Darlington, which extended its opening times until 7pm, said: “Our stores have been exceptionally busy.”
One shop worker in Newcastle said: “It is rammed.”
Chris Goulding, of Norwich toy shop Langleys, said this week had been “extremely busy” and it has “sold a lot of stock”.
Emily Robinson, 19, out shopping for Christmas presents in the city yesterday, said: “It’s going to be crazy after lockdown so I wanted to get a step ahead.”
Ama Ndziba, 21, queuing outside a Primark store in Wolverhampton, said: “I’m here to get some stuff because I don’t know when this lockdown will end.”
Lara Clarke, 19, out shopping in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, with mum Christine, said she wanted to support local businesses and was concerned the lockdown might not end in a month.
“If it’s anything like last time it will probably get extended,” she said.
“We don’t know if this is the last chance to actually go out Christmas shopping.”
The packed scenes come after the UK registered its highest daily increase in coronavirus deaths for six months.
New coronavirus cases soared by 25,177 and 1,421 patients were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours, new government figures show.
Another 492 deaths were also recorded, the highest daily increase since May 19. The death toll in all settings now stands at 47,742.
England will go into a second national lockdown from midnight tonight, with strict restrictions on daily life.
All non-essential shops must close until December 2.
The following retailers regarded as essential can stay open:
- Food shops, newsagents and off-licences
- Hardware stores and building merchants
- Petrol stations and garages
- Bike shops
- Taxi and vehicle hire services
- Banks, building societies, credit unions, currency exchanges
- Post offices
- Funeral directors
- Laundrettes and dry cleaners
- Health services such as dentists, opticians, osteopaths and mental health services
- Vets and pet shops
- Agriculture supplies shops
- Storage facilities
- Car parks
- Public toilets
- Garden centres