Customers returning to shops and restaurants

A more transmissible subtype of the Omicron Covid-19 variant is on course to become dominant within weeks, scientists said yesterday, as new data suggested that coronavirus cases were again rising.

The number of customers visiting shops and restaurants is on the rise as the threat from the Omicron coronavirus variant eases, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Seperately, OpenTable, the restaurant booking website, has reported a six-percentage-point rise in the number of seated diners in the week to February 7 compared with the previous seven days, continuing the upward trajectory of the past month. The figure is 12 per cent higher than in the same week in 2020.

In addition, the Bank of England has noted a rise in the number of debit and credit card purchases of six percentage points in the week to February compared with the previous week. Spending on cards is at 96 per cent of its pre-pandemic level.

Hospital cases of Covid are falling and, despite Omicron infections, overall deaths have not risen above levels that are normally recorded in winter. The last remaining Covid restriction — the legal requirement to isolate after a positive test — may be scrapped before it was scheduled to end on March 24.

Shopper numbers on high streets, retail parks and other destinations rose by three percentage points in the week to February 5, compared with the previous week. This is the fourth consecutive weekly rise, according to Springboard.

However, in the past two weeks 31 per cent of all businesses suffered lower turnover than normally would be expected for the time of year, according to the ONS’s fortnightly survey. About 8,614 businesses responded in February. About 10 per cent of businesses said that they had no cash reserves at the end of January, down from a peak above 13 per cent at the end of December. The number that said they had low or no confidence that they would survive fell to 6.3 per cent, down from 7.3 per cent a month before.