Running your business safely: COVID-19 advice for different sectors

Shop owner posting a sign about reopening her store after the coronavirus lockdown restrictions are lifted

Shops, cafes, pubs, bars, and restaurants across the UK are having a tough time as the coronavirus crisis rumbles on. The original lockdown restrictions were lifted back in June in line with the government's staged approach for coming out of lockdown. However, as cases began to climb again, businesses in England were plunged into a second lockdown

To help control the spread of the virus, devolved governments have implemented a tiered approach to restrictions. These tiers control which businesses can open and when, what business activities they can carry out and what individuals are permitted to do, where they can go and who they can see. In England, prior to the currently lockdown, there were three tiers whilst in Scotland there are five. Wales and Northern Ireland are also operating their own devolved measures which included a two-week 'firebreak' in Wales which started on 23 October.

As the pandemic picture evolves, areas are being moved up or down depending on the number of cases in the area. You should check which tier you are in so that you know what restrictions your business must comply with. Where businesses are forced to close, the government has announced a range of support measures to help them in addition to extra measures for those adversely affected by the crisis.

In areas with low infection rates, businesses are able to continue trading. While it may not be 'business as usual'. businesses are becoming adept at operating in the 'new normal'. We look at how businesses can operate safely when regional restrictions allow.

Hairdressers and barber shops

Hair salons and barbers were allowed to re-open on 4 July but like many other business types they were forced to close again when the government announced another four-week lockdown. When the latest restrictions are lifted it does not mean it will be business as usual. Even though demand for their services will be high, hairdressers and barbers will have to change their approach to bookings to comply with the government guidance and ensure there are fewer customers in the salon at any one time.

It is more important than ever to have a good appointment system with staggered shift times and increased opening hours. The requirement for social distancing means walk-in appointments will remain a thing of the past for the time being.

Social distancing is certainly challenging when it comes to cutting hair so salons have had to implement measures that reduce risk. Both hairdressers and customers should wear masks. Wearing aprons and gloves is also a good idea. Once hair has been washed with shampoo it may be safe to take the gloves off. Clients should wash or sanitise their hands when they enter the salon, they should be discouraged from arriving early and the ubiquitous trashy mags and hot drinks have gone for now. The typical chit-chat should be kept to a minimum too. Going to the hairdressers won't be the same for the foreseeable future but demand for a professional cut and colour will not wane.

Cafés, pubs, and restaurants

Cafés, pubs and restaurants were also allowed to re-open on 4 July following a strict set of requirements aimed at keeping customers and staff safe. However, businesses in this sector have arguably faced more changing advice on opening than any other sector. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme meant that some food businesses saw a sudden increase in the number of diners in August and businesses were quick to adapt to make sure they could safely meet the increased demand. However, since then there are has been a clamping down on business activities again which started with earlier closing times followed by closure when lockdown 2.0 was announced.

Some food businesses are continuing to operate with a takeaway service - perhaps using delivery providers such as Just Eat and Deliveroo, or their own staff. Others asked customers to buy online and collect the food in person. If you're one of these businesses, now's the time to update your website so you can keep customers informed and take online bookings. If you are operating a takeaway service, it's a good idea to adapt your menu so that you offer a few crowd-pleasing dishes that travel well.

If you are offering a takeaway service, you will still need to maintain measures to keep customers and staff safe. If customers come to your premises to order or collect food, you have to make sure there are social distancing measures in place.

Other measures you might employ include operating a one-way system and taking steps to avoid queues, providing guidance on social distancing and extra hygiene

You'll also need to meet government guidelines on hygiene and social distancing in the kitchen. You may need to make extra checks to ensure it is safe to open, your drivers should wear masks and gloves and customers should pay by card instead of with cash.

Clothes and shoe shops

In the first three months of 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that the textiles, clothing and footwear sectors saw a 35% decline in retail sales. Lockdown certainly didn't help but shoppers also cut back on non-essential goods as the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic became clear.

Demand for clothes and shoes is likely to bounce back but whether it returns to previous levels remains to be seen.

When clothes and shoe shops re-open they will need to implement measures to reassure customers that it's safe to come in. Many people will continue to shop online so retailers must also make sure that side of their business is running smoothly.

In-store measures should include social distancing and, if possible, stores should have separate entrances and exits to allow a one-way flow of customers. Spaced out queues, screens at the tills, sanitising stations and card payments were also recommended or required.

Access to changing rooms and customer service may have to be limited or withdrawn altogether where social distancing is not possible. That will have a knock-on effect on returns policies if customers are unable to try on items in-store.

Like many other retail activities, clothes shopping isn't as much fun as it used to be as shops prioritise customer safety above all else.

Garden centres

Lockdown has been tough on garden centres, many of which had to throw away thousands of plants in the first lockdown. However, some garden centres were allowed to stay open throughout the crisis because they also sold pet supplies which are classed as essential. And many others found ways to sell online.

Garden centres that are permitted to open are having to implement strict social distancing to keep staff and customer safe. The government has recommended that garden centres follow the Safe Trading Guidance produced by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA).

Many garden centres are reducing the amount of car parking spaces they offer in order to control the number of people in their premises at any one time. some cafes also remain closed so visits to garden centres are likely to be shorter than they once were.

Car dealerships

Car dealerships in England re-opened on 1 June.

March is traditionally the busiest month of the year for car sales and dealers were allowed to continue to sell new and used cars online and over the phone during lockdown.

Autocar reports that most dealers moved to a model of taking deposits for cars pending delivery during lockdown. This click and collect service allowed them to complete transactions and deliver cars to their new owners even though the main showroom was closed.

Estate agents

The government said property viewings are allowed as part of its strategy to reopen the housing market. Ideally, these should be virtual viewings using video but physical viewings are allowed in certain situations. In addition, estate agent offices and show homes can open. However, all this must be achieved by observing hygiene and social distancing rules.

In-person viewings must be by appointment only, with no open house viewings. All parties should remain two metres apart, internal doors should be open, and the occupier should vacate the property for the duration of the visit. Once the viewing has taken place all surfaces and door handles should be thoroughly cleaned.

According to government data, some 450,000 buyers put their moving plans on hold when the initial lockdown began. As removal companies are now allowed to operate, these moves can get going again. However, anyone with the virus, or who is self-isolating, should not be moving.

The chancellor extended the nil rate band of Residential Stamp Duty Land Tax from £125,000 to £500,000 until 31 March 2021 in an attempt to kick start the housing market.

Bicycle shops

Bicycle shops were allowed to stay open during the first lockdown and many of them prioritised bike sales and services for key workers. Sales of bicycles have already shot up and the government has announced an investment of £2bn in cycling and walking infrastructure to relieve pressure on public transport.

Bike shops can stay safe by working on an appointment-only basis for now or operating a collect and delivery series. Customers that want repairs should make arrangements in advance and hand over their bikes outside the shop.

Gyms and fitness centres

Even during the strictest periods of lockdown, people were encouraged to take an hours' exercise each day. Brits can exercise outside on their own, with the people they live with or who form part of their support bubble. They are also allowed to meet another person from a different household (while staying two metres apart). Personal trainers have been able to offer one-to-one sessions in outdoor spaces since early July.

Gyms had to make big changes to their facilities before they could open on 25 July. Machines were spaced out and class sizes reduced significantly. Perhaps the most important measure was the introduction of rigorous cleaning schedules that ensure equipment and other touchpoints are cleaned after every use.

Currently gyms are closed like many other businesses due to the second national lockdown in England. Even if an area in England enters the highest tier of lockdown (tier three) when the current lockdown ends, exercise classes and organised sport will be able to take place outdoors if people can avoid mixing with people they do not live or share a support bubble with. Classes can continue indoors (subject to controls) in areas in tiers 1 and 2.

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