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LONDON: Restrictions imposed in the wake of the Omicron coronavirus variant have "wiped out" much of a recent recovery enjoyed by UK bricks-and-mortar stores, the British Retail Consortium revealed Friday.

Much of the progress made in late 2021 "was wiped out in December as surging Omicron cases and new work-from-home advice deterred many from shopping in-store, particularly in towns and city centres", noted BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

"Nevertheless, while UK footfall saw a moderate decline compared to previous months, it remained above levels of other major European economies, as the country avoided some of the more severe restrictions implemented elsewhere," she added in a statement.

The number of shoppers visiting UK stores slid 18.6 percent in December compared with two years earlier, or before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the BRC.

"December footfall capped a challenging year for brick-and-mortar stores, which saw footfall down one-third on pre-pandemic levels," Dickinson added.

The UK, already among the worst hit countries in Europe by the pandemic with a virus death toll of nearly 150,000, has seen a fresh surge in cases owing to the arrival of the Omicron variant in late November.

In Britain, more than one in 20 people had Covid-19 in the week ending December 31 -- its highest infection rate recorded during the pandemic.

Despite the unprecedented numbers, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has opted not to introduce tougher restrictions in England, arguing the rising levels of hospitalisations and serious illness do not yet require more measures.

But other UK regions have tightened rules, with devolved governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast all rolling out post-Christmas curbs on socialising and large events.

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