London’s West End is experiencing muted Christmas trading as Omicron bites. By Reuters

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© Reuters. PHOTOGRAPHY: Customers view products inside Selfridges on Black Friday in the West End shopping district of London, UK, November 26, 2021. REUTERS / May James / File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – London’s main shopping and entertainment district has predicted a muffled last weekend of Christmas trading after customer turnover fell on Thursday and a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, keeps people at home.

The New West End Company, which represents 600 brands, restaurants and businesses in London’s West End, said the number of people on Thursday was down 7 per cent from the previous week and 32 per cent from pre-pandemic figures.

Britain first expressed concern about the Omicron variant on November 25, and on December 9, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed stricter restrictions on COVID-19 in England, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes to slow down spread.

“With an increase in COVID cases undermining consumer confidence and a planned Tube strike looming on Saturday, we expect a muted last weekend of Christmas trading at a time when West End companies should enjoy much-needed incentives,” said CEO Jace Tyrrell on Friday.

He joined calls for the government to provide temporary financial support to leisure companies across the UK.

British retail sales grew faster than expected last month, helped by Black Friday discounts, early Christmas shopping and unrestricted closures that closed many stores last year, official data on Friday showed.

However, Omicron has heightened fears of Christmas trading.

On Wednesday, consumer electronics retailer Currys said its market had softened in recent weeks, while online fashion retailer Boohoo warned of annual profits on Thursday.

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