PICTURES: Christmas buzz in Belfast city centre as shoppers make late purchases

Retailers have had some belated festive cheer in Belfast on the verge of Christmas as shoppers flocked to pick up some last minute presents against a backdrop of record numbers of Covid cases.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 24th December 2021, 3:08 pm
Updated Friday, 24th December 2021, 4:15 pm

Many parts of the city centre were bustling in ways that have not been seen in the city centre since Christmas 2019.

The Covid pandemic emerged early last year when high street retailers were already under pressure due to the growth of online shopping.

Hopes of a recovery this Christmas have been hampered by the rise of the Omicron variant, with footfall in city centres across the UK having fallen in the last week.

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Belfast shoppers in the city centre, near Cornmarket, on Thursday as people aimed to get some Christmas shopping done shortly before Christmas. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

In central London today, footfall was nearly a third lower on the morning of Christmas Eve than it was a week earlier, new data from Springboard show.

Outside the capital, visits to city centres dropped by 10%, the figures show.

Overall retail footfall increased by nearly 14% however, helped by a strong showing in market towns, retail parks and shopping centres.

“The increased activity in retail parks today will in part be due to trips for food and grocery products as the majority of retail parks have a food store,” Springboard said, as it revealed retail footfall was up by 23.6% compared to last week.

With a backdrop of Belfast City Hall, shoppers carry out last minute Christmas shopping. on Thursday Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

“However, since the start of Covid, retail parks has consistently been more resilient in retaining shoppers as they are large open spaces, with large stores which make shoppers feel safer and less nervous.”

In shopping centres, footfall rose by 19.6%, compared to just a 6.7% rise in high street footfall.

The data, especially that from London, shows the impact of the Omicron strain of the Covid-19 virus, which has struck the capital especially hard.

Although there are fewer restrictions in place than last year - footfall in central London was today 42% higher than a year earlier - many shoppers are clearly staying at home to avoid the outbreak.

Crowds of shoppers on Donegall Square North, alongside the now shut Christmas Market, on December 23. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Overall, the country’s retailers have seen visitor numbers drop by more than a fifth compared to Christmas Eve 2019, before the pandemic struck.

But the industry is at least recovering from last year, when there were more restrictions in place. Overall footfall is up by more than 30% since then.

In other UK figures, more than 35,000 struggling retailers are now said to be in significant financial distress as they face a harsh winter amid the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The data from insolvency firm Begbies Traynor has also revealed that more than 20,000 bars and restaurants are also in a perilous financial position across the UK.

General views of shoppers in Donegall Place in Belfast city centre on Thursday. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

The figures come as firms across the UK witness reduced footfall and cancellations during a key trading period as coronavirus cases continue to soar past record levels.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £1 billion package for affected firms earlier this week, focusing on the hospitality and leisure sectors, but industry leaders have already called for more to be done.

On Friday morning, another 3,286 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland with three further fatalities, according to the Department of Health.

There were 256 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 34 were in intensive care.

Across the UK, new data has emerged showing that Covid infection levels have reached a new record high after a senior health official said findings that the Omicron variant is milder offer a “glimmer of Christmas hope”.

An estimated 1.7 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 19, the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

General views of shoppers in Donegall Place. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

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