Housebuilders Bellway and Persimmon are shutting construction sites amid the lockdown to help protect workers from coronavirus.

Bellway said it was closing its 200 building sites by the end of Friday, with site managers only allowed onto developments to maintain security or to hand over keys to buyers.

Charles Church builder Persimmon confirmed it is also starting an "orderly shutdown" of its construction sites.

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It said it would continue with essential work only, making partly-built homes safe, where otherwise customers could be left in a vulnerable position.

Bellway has already shut its sales offices and Persimmon is closing its sales network from Thursday, offering telephone and online-only customer support.

Advice has varied south of the Border and in Scotland, where the First Minister said non-essential construction work should be suspended.

Bellway chief executive Jason Honeyman told the PA news agency the decision to shut its construction sites in spite of being exempt from the Government-imposed lockdown came as a result of fears for worker safety.

He said: "We weren't convinced we could police the social distancing or keep workers two metres apart at sites.
"There's always some people who ignore it."

He added that the group was also unable to get materials as builders' merchants are closed and there are no deliveries.

It comes as pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to order that all non-essential construction work is halted amid worries that workers travelling to sites will hamper efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

In its half-year results, Bellway also cautioned it expects buyer demand to "almost cliff edge" as the UK locks down.
The group said sales have plunged by around 40% this week as strict new social distancing measures came into effect with cancellation rates also more than doubling to around 30%.

Mr Honeyman said: "I would expect it (sales declines) to continue beyond that and almost cliff edge."

Persimmon also warned it was "preparing for a significant delay in the timing of legal completions, a rise in cancellation rates and a material slowdown in new sales".

Interim figures from Bellway showed a 7% fall in pre-tax profit to £291.8 million for the six months to January 31.

Revenues rose 3.6% to £1.54 billion, but average sales prices fell slightly to £286,570, from £293,832 a year ago.

Thousands of shops up and down the country may have closed their doors for the last time this week following the Government's coronavirus lockdown, experts have warned.

More than 20,600 retailers are expected to have pulled their shutters down for the final time by the end of the year, according to new figures, a massive leap on the 4,547 that closed in 2019.

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"We expect large retail businesses to now be looking at exactly how many stores they expect to operate in 2021 and beyond in order to trade successfully moving forward.

"They will now make plans to achieve those objectives," said Professor Joshua Bamfield, director at the Centre for Retail Research, which made the estimates.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that all non-essential shops would have to close for at least three weeks as the country tries to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It means job losses are predicted to reach more than 235,000, up from less than 93,000 last year. That is both in closing stores and in those cutting back on staff.

Prof Bamfield said that Government efforts to help business will have taken some of the edge off some of the closures and job losses.

However, supermarkets could see an upswing, with many customers stocking up their pantries, freezers and wine racks.

The Centre for Retail Research predicts it could be the best year since 2011 for the supermarkets, though most of the 45,000 jobs created are not expected to become permanent.

UK inflation slowed last month on the back of falling motor fuel and computer game prices, official statisticians have revealed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) decreased to 1.7% in February.

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Inflation was reported at 1.8% in January, after the cost of energy and aeroplane tickets pushed household prices higher.

Analysts had forecast that inflation would slow to 1.6% for February.

Mike Hardie, head of inflation at the ONS, said: "There was a slight slowing in the rate of inflation due mainly to falling prices for motor fuels and computer games."

Motor fuels had a "large downward contribution" after petrol prices fell by 2.4p per litre between January and February 2020, the ONS said.

It added that diesel prices fell by 3.2p per litre between January and February this year.