Christmas shoppers hit the high streets in droves on the first weekend since lockdown was lifted in England, sparking concerns over social distancing.
In scenes resembling New Year’s Eve celebrations, people could be seen with drinks in hand dancing to buskers on Oxford Street, while similar images showed crowds gathering at Covent Garden.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was out in the West End on Saturday as a show of support for retailers, but he warned people to continue following coronavirus rules, with the majority of England under tier 2 or tier 3 restrictions, which limit social contact between households.
The capital is currently under tier 2 “high risk” restrictions, which prevent people from different households mixing indoors unless they are in a support bubble, while they must also follow the “rule of six” outdoors.
Four people were arrested after large crowds tried to enter Harrods on Saturday afternoon.
Hundreds of young people were photographed gathering outside the famous department store, with some onlookers complaining they were not wearing masks or social distancing.
The Metropolitan Police said four males were arrested – two for affray, one for breach of Covid regulations, and another for a public order offence and breach of Covid regulations.
Hordes of people were also seen filling up town and city centres, including those in Manchester and Nottingham, which are in tier 3, and York, Colchester and Bournemouth, in tier 2.
Scenes of people packed into Nottingham city centre for a Christmas market prompted criticism from local residents before it was temporarily shut down.
Jo Cox-Brown, from Night Time Economy Solutions, posted images of the crowds on Twitter, writing: “So as a council you can put on a Christmas Market with horrific and downright irresponsible scenes like this but we cannot open hospitality, theatres, nightclubs or put on festivals. Boris Johnson where is the logic in this?”
One Twitter user asked where the government’s “hands, face, space” instruction was, while another wrote: “Armed police were present to protect the crowd from a terrorist attack. But no one is protecting Nottingham hospitals from an increase of Covid patients. Please get this event closed down.”
The Mellors Group, which organised the market, said it had decided to temporarily shut the event on Sunday “in light of the unprecedented high footfall seen up and down the country for retail nationally”.
It said in a statement: “The pent-up demand for a city-centre offer was far higher than normal and we feel this is the most appropriate way forward.
“This will allow us to monitor footfall in the city centre today and ensure that our activities support residents and local businesses in an appropriate fashion.”
Despite high streets across England experiencing a festive flurry on Saturday, figures show that about one-third fewer people visited shops compared with this time last year.
Data from retail analysts ShopperTrak shows that footfall was down 29 per cent year-on-year as many erred on the side of caution despite non-essential shops being allowed to reopen from Wednesday.
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at ShopperTrak, said retailers will be hoping that “pent-up demand” will continue through until the last Saturday before Christmas – dubbed Super Saturday – on 19 December.
While Saturday did see shopper traffic increase by 193 per cent nationally week-on-week, Mr Sumpter said that “many are still keenly feeling the impact of lockdown”.
Despite queues forming for Oxford Street shops, numbers were down compared with 2019.
The New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses in the London shopping district, said it saw footfall fall by 37 per cent year-on-year.
Additional reporting by PA