Retail sales bounced back past their pre-coronavirus level in July – the first full month non-essential shops were open after lockdown.
Volumes rose by 3.6% from June and were 1.4% higher than in July 2019, the Office for National Statistics said, representing a sharp recovery from double-digit falls seen in April and May.
It offers some rare economic hope as it was confirmed that public debt had topped £2trn for the first time on record as the UK finances feel the bite of the public health crisis.
However, the headline figures mask the varying fortunes of different retailers during the crisis.
Online sales have boomed and household goods stores have also seen strong demand.
Companies such as Marks & Spencer, Boots, John Lewis, Dixons Carphone and WHSmith have announced plans for thousands of job cuts.
Economists fear the broad retail recovery could prove temporary.
Restaurants and bars began to reopen in July – giving people more options for their spending – and unemployment is forecast to rise sharply once the furlough job support scheme stops at the end of October.