WH SMITH fell deeply into the red in the last year as the Covid-19 pandemic forced hundreds of its shops to close and put the brakes on its travel business.

The retailer lost £226 million before tax in the 12 months to the end of August, down from a £135m profit a year ago, it said on Thursday.

Underlying pre-tax loss hit £69m, a figure analysts had been expecting to reach around £70m to £75m.

Revenue was down 3 per cent to just over £1 billion, the company said, after a strong start to the year was interrupted by the virus.

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“Since March, we have been heavily impacted by the pandemic,” said chief executive Carl Cowling.

Things had started looking up again, but last week England entered a second lockdown, leaving businesses that rely on physical sites in a tricky position.

After the announcement, WH Smith has 558 high street and 243 travel shops open.

It said they had learnt the lessons from the first lockdown and could quickly furlough staff and manage their supply chain.

“We are expecting a significant decline in passenger numbers as a result of travel bans with the majority of our stores at airports and railway stations temporarily closed,” it said.

The travel business has been particularly badly hit since March.