Wales’ firebreak supermarket rules to be reviewed

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A ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items during Wales’ lockdown will be reviewed after the weekend, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

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

The largest petition ever submitted to the Senedd has now passed 45,000 signatures.

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government was ensuring “common sense is applied”.

The Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies had earlier called for the Senedd/Welsh Parliament to be recalled for an urgent debate on the matter.

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”.

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

Wales’ firebreak lockdown is in place until 9 November.

It came as the UK recorded 174 more deaths and 23,012 new confirmed cases on Saturday.

‘Driving around crying’

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

Chelsea Jones, from Llwynypia in Rhondda, said her daughter’s pyjamas were “covered 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 and with pay day in a few days I would have got some.

“Everything is essential when it’s something you desperately need and nobody should be controlling what you can and can’t buy in the supermarket. At the end of the day, clothing, shoes and even bedding are definitely essentials.”

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

Earlier on Saturday, the Welsh Government tweeted to say: “Supermarkets can keep selling items you can find in other essential shops – such as stationery/greeting cards.

“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: “This is not for the sake of being difficult – 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.”

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In a statement, the Welsh Government added: “The firebreak is designed to reduce all physical contact between households to an absolute minimum in order to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.

“We have a small window in which to take this action and there are no easy choices. However, we fully recognise the impact the firebreak will have on businesses and are making a further £300 million available to support them through this difficult period.”

‘Absolute madness’

In calling for the return of the Senedd/Welsh Parliament, Mr Davies said: “People are concerned at being prevented from buying products such as books, bins, baby clothes in local shops and this is forcing them to purchase online or to make extra journeys to multiple shops searching for them.”

He added that members of the Senedd should be able to discuss the matter virtually.

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

“What we want to see is the Welsh Government scrapping this measure and that’s why I’ve actually written to the presiding officer requesting an urgent meeting of the Senedd in order to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

The presiding officer has been approached for comment.

Previous large petitions related to the proposed closure of the A&E department at Withybush Hospital in Pembrokeshire (40,045), a call to teach black history in Welsh schools (34,736) and for 2020 exam grades to be awarded via teacher assessments (28,505).

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