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B&Q shuts stores as anger grows at firms trading despite UK lockdown

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
B&Q closed shops over the coronavirus but stores may re-open. (PA)

B&Q has closed down its stores as the UK goes into lockdown over the coronavirus.

The DIY chain joins a growing list of household names that have temporarily shut their doors after the UK government ordered non-essential retailers to close.

Home and hardware stores are among the “essential” stores allowed to continue trading. B&Q said in a statement on its website on Wednesday its stores were shutting while the firm worked through how it could keep safely providing “essential products that keep houses warm, safe and with power.”

It had said initially said on Monday the company would limit customer numbers, enforce distancing rules and protect checkouts, before closing down after prime minister Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement on Monday night.

But its decision to remain open until then and potential continuation of some services have proved controversial, despite the government’s go-ahead.

Read more: Sports Direct U-turns on controversial plan to open despite coronavirus lockdown

More than 5,000 people signed a petition calling on owner Kingfisher (KGF.L) to scale back operations, accusing it of risking the health of staff and their families. One worker claimed staff in his branch had complained about having to come in.

Another worker in a warehouse, which continued to operate on Wednesday, told Yahoo Finance UK his colleagues were “worried and angry” about continuing to work. He said he was concerned about the number of people he came into contact with every day at the warehouse in northern England.

“Theres an uneasy atmosphere here, all motivation for the job has gone,” he said.

It comes amid wider controversy about the number of workers being told to come in as usual and stores continuing to open. The government has released a list of essential types of store that can remain open, but there is still debate about what should count as “essential.”

Read more: Halfords says hundreds of thousands of drivers could be affected if it shut

Halfords has been designated as an “essential” retailer by the government, as its vehicle part sales and repairs are relied on by so many workers and organisations including government departments.

But Sports Direct faced a significant backlash from MPs for seeking to open and was told by ministers it was not essential, prompting a U-turn on initial plans to keep stores open.

The government is under mounting pressure to clarify which businesses and workers more widely should remain open and order the rest to close.

There is growing anger that workers from estate agents to builders are being told by employers to come into work despite fears for their health.

The business select committee of MPs received more than 600 messages from concerned staff within hours of appealing for evidence. Staff from companies as wide-ranging as furniture manufacturers, travel agents and law firms complained about being made to go into work.