Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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Covid: Wales’ lockdown supermarket rules to be ‘clarified’


image copyrightReuters

image captionThe ban has provoked a fierce debate on what goods are “essential”

A ban on supermarkets selling “non-essential” items during Wales’ lockdown will be clarified but not scrapped, health minister Vaughan Gething says.

Pressure has mounted on the Welsh Government to reverse the decision to prohibit supermarkets from selling items such as clothes and microwaves.

More than 55,000 people have signed the largest-ever Senedd petition.

The Welsh Conservatives accused the Labour-led government of “incompetence and mixed messaging”.

On Saturday First Minister Drakeford said the Welsh Government would review “how the weekend had gone” to ensure “common sense is applied”.

We’ll be reviewing how the weekend has gone with the supermarkets and making sure that common sense is applied. Supermarkets can sell anything that can be sold in any other type of shop that isn’t required to close. In the meantime, please only leave home if you need to.

— Mark Drakeford (@fmwales) October 24, 2020

Supermarkets have been told they can only sell “essential” items and must close parts of their stores which sell products such as clothes, shoes, toys and bedding during Wales’ 17-day “firebreak” lockdown.

Mr Gething told The Andrew Marr Show the government would review the “understanding, clarity and policy” because it had been applied differently across the country.

He said: “We’ve had conversations with [the supermarkets] about what is essential and what isn’t. We will speak to them again on Monday so everyone understands the position we’re in.”

media captionMarr: Vaughan Gething explains Wales supermarket rules

Lee Waters, Wales’ deputy minister for economy and transport, told BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement “supermarkets have discretion” over what they can sell.

He said: “I’ve been getting lots of people on social media getting in touch with me saying ‘I can’t buy a microwave for my newborn baby to heat up their milk’. Well in those circumstances, supermarkets are able to make a judgement, whether they sell you that or not.”

The Welsh Government’s Counsel General Jeremy Miles subsequently told BBC Politics Wales the guidance allowed “more flexibility than is being used” and “there’s an element of local discretion to solve some of those problems”.

However the head of the Welsh Retail Consortium Sara Jones said that “discretion” had not been communicated in guidance issued on Friday.

She said: “To hear that discretion can be applied, of course that’s good because it’s showing that ministers are listening and that they’re willing to look at ways to move forward.

“However, it does open a whole host of other issues. For example, by actually allowing that discretion to happen it means that actually the consumer is going to spend more time in store having to seek advice having to seek guidance.

“That’s going to have the opposite effect of what the policy was intended for in the first place, which was to minimise the amount of time people should spend in store.”

image captionSara Jones called for the rules to be reversed

Welsh Conservative health spokesperson and member of the Senedd (MS) Andrew RT Davies said: “Regrettably, incompetence and mixed messaging from the Welsh Labour Government only continues this morning.

“Last night the First Minister rightly announced a ‘review’ into his draconian supermarket shopping ban, yet within 12 hours his colleagues have undermined it by confirming the ban will stay in place.”

‘Driving around crying’

One parent has described how she was unable to buy clothes on Saturday for her child who had been admitted to hospital.

Chelsea Jones said her daughter’s pyjamas were “soaked in blood”, but she was not allowed to buy new ones from a supermarket “five minutes” from the hospital in Cardiff.

Instead, she was forced to make a 40-mile round trip home to collect replacements.

“I was driving around crying in a panic trying to find somewhere that I am able to pick up some essentials for my child,” she said.

“I have never felt so angry, frustrated or upset, ever. You just never know when a ‘non essential item’ will become ‘essential’ to you.

“I am not one to undermine the seriousness of Covid and always try my best to follow the rules, but these rules need to change.”

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionThe toy aisle at Tesco on Western Avenue in Cardiff has been blocked off – the sales ban also applies to clothing

A 28-year-old man from Anglesey has been charged with criminal damage and breaching coronavirus regulations in a supermarket.

Video footage showed a man pulling down plastic sheeting which was covering non-essential goods at a Tesco store in Bangor, Gwynedd.

Gwilym Owen has also been charged with public order offences.

‘An inconvenience’

Jodi Merry, from Rhondda Cynon Taf, said the ban had come at an awkward time as she was planning to buy new clothes for her eight-year-old son after she gets paid next week.

“It’s just an inconvenience,” she said.

“I know it’s only two weeks but he doesn’t have any winter pyjamas…Clothing, shoes and even bedding are definitely essentials.”

Shoppers in Cardiff had mixed opinions on the new rules.

Jane Millersmith said: “I think it’s absolutely, totally ridiculous. The idea that somebody who’s on benefits and is waiting for their money to come through, maybe until next Thursday or Wednesday, can’t then buy a child a pair of school shoes is outrageous.”

Meanwhile, Rebecca Edwards said: “If I was desperate because I’d broken my kettle I’d think ‘I’ll go and buy a kettle quickly’ I’m not going to browse the whole of the homeware department because I need a kettle, I’d just go and buy a kettle because that’s what I’d come for.”

However, Oliver Bowler said he thought the Welsh Government was taking a “proportionate approach”.

The move has led to confusion over what supermarkets can and cannot sell.

On Saturday, the Welsh Government tweeted to say: “The purpose of selling essential items only during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops and to be fair to retailers who have to close.”

It continued: “We need to do everything we can to minimise the time we spend outside our homes. This will help save lives and protect the NHS.”

Wales’ firebreak lockdown is in place until 9 November.

The Welsh Government added it had made a further £300m available to support businesses affected.

‘Absolute madness’

Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart urged Mr Drakeford to “scrap the policy” while Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies called for the Senedd/Welsh Parliament to be recalled “virtually” to debate the matter.

“This is absolute madness by the Welsh Government, preventing people from buying the products which they want to buy,” he said.

The presiding officer has been approached for comment.

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