The emergence of the new coronavirus Omicron variant is starting to impact shopper behaviour in Britain, researcher Springboard said on Monday.
It said that in the week to 4 December overall UK shopper numbers, or footfall, rose 0.7% versus the previous week and was up 0.5% in central London.
However, Springboard noted its central London 'Back to the Office Benchmark', comprising only those areas in close proximity to offices, fell 2% and there was a 3.8% drop in footfall in regional cities outside of the capital.
Small Market Towns
Springboard said footfall rose 1% in small market towns as more shoppers stayed local.
"Last week...provided the first evidence of an early impact on footfall of the Omicron variant," said Diane Wehrle, Springboard's insights director.
Britain first expressed concern about the new variant on 25 November.
There have so far been 246 confirmed cases of Omicron in Britain.
The variant appears to be more transmissible, while tests continue to see whether it causes more severe disease or if vaccines are less effective against it.
Springboard said the gap in shopper numbers from the 2019 level was 17.4% last week, but footfall was 43% higher than in 2020.
Lifting Of COVID-19 Restrictions
Shopper numbers across Britain will rise by nearly one fifth during the week, commencing the 19 July versus the previous week thanks to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, it was reported at the time.
The British government is removing most pandemic restrictions in England from 19 July, so-called 'freedom day', saying a rapid rollout of vaccines has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.