WITH Oxfordshire’s best-known shopping centre set to close again on Thursday, Tim Hughes paid a visit to see how it was enforcing the rules as shoppers took a last chance to stock up on labels

NO RETAIL destination in Oxfordshire is taking coronavirus as seriously as Bicester Village.

The North Oxfordshire designer outlet centre is among the county’s biggest attractions, and even in the midst of a pandemic is pulling in thousands of shoppers with the promise of unbeatable discounts on high-end designer fashion items from the likes of Versace, Calvin Klein, Polo and Tommy Hilfiger.

But while the centre has previously come in for criticism for failing to enforce social distancing, both centre management and individual shops appear to be strictly enforcing the rules.

It is a model of Covid-safety.

Visitors are asked to queue – at a distance – to get into the ‘village’, with theme park-style ropes zig-zagging into the car park. They then pass through a small marquee where thermal imaging technology weeds out anyone running a temperature.

Numbers of shoppers are restricted, with a refreshing absence of crowds on its single thoroughfare.

Shops are also limiting numbers, with customers forced to check in and wait by staff armed with iPads. A few, such as the intimately-proportioned Levi’s store, were operating a one-out, one-in system, while others were taking details and asking shoppers to come back later.

At the expansive Barbour store – selling waxed jackets and high-end country wear – we were told to wait for an hour. Of course we didn’t; no one needs a quilted gilet that badly.

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All staff wore masks or visors and were polite but firm. Shoppers were also following the rules with patience and good humour. I did not see a single person without a mask anywhere within the precinct of the village – indoors or out.

Bicester Village was approached for a comment on how managers felt about a second lockdown and on its success in applying the rules, but did not respond.

However, a member of staff at one of its stores, who asked to remain anonymous, was critical of some shoppers, saying: “I think mistakes have been made on all sides, but what I would say is that the appetite for restrictions and safety measures that have been put in place have been met by disdain and, in some cases, abuse for staff.

“We can put restrictions in place but the public must take responsibility. They also have a choice whether to shop or not. Even when we restricted entrance numbers, people complained. We cannot win.

“What I have learned is that Covid is here to stay. All of our stores are Covid-secure but responsibility for controlling the virus falls on all of us.”

Daniel Fox visited on Sunday. He said: “I was impressed that they were taking it seriously. Everybody was masked up and security staff were checking people coming into the village to make sure no one had a temperature.

“Shop staff were also strict - though some of the waiting times are ridiculous. But if that’s what it takes to be safe, that’s fair enough.”