Wales to review restrictions on sale of non-essential products

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A view shows empty shelves in a supermarket during the first evening of the Welsh lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tenby, Wales, Britain October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

Wales on Monday said it would review regulations and guidance after a public outcry at a ban on the sale of items deemed non-essential during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

The devolved government in Cardiff introduced a 17-day “fire-break” on Friday to try to cut rising infection rates, forcing pubs, hotels and restaurants to close.

All non-essential retailers were also shut and supermarkets told only to sell essential items to discourage people from spending more time than necessary in shops.

But the rule has proved highly unpopular, as details emerged of clothing, books and paper roped off or covered up.

More than 65,000 people signed a petition calling the restrictions “disproportionate and cruel”, and for them to be reversed.

Another row blew up Monday after one shopper complained on Twitter she had been unable to purchase female sanitary products after initially being told there were “not essential”.

Supermarket giant Tesco initially told the woman it had been “told by the Welsh Government not to sell” period products during the shutdown.

It then deleted the tweet and apologised for the error.

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said officials would meet supermarkets to look at the regulations and guidance “to make sure it is being applied fairly and consistently”.

“Supermarkets are open and trading as are many other shops and are able to sell the wide range of everyday items that we all need,” he told reporters.

“But there are some other items that won’t be on sale for the next two weeks. These are items that other high street shops, which are currently closed, can’t sell at the moment.”

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has called on the Welsh government to drop the ban altogether, saying the measure has put huge pressure on retailers.

“We are extremely concerned that this badly thought out, badly implemented and unnecessary policy will cause flashpoints of further abuse and violence in store,” commented James Lowman, ACS chief executive.

“The Welsh Government has talked about the measures being put in place to ensure ‘fairness’, but have failed to consider whether it’s fair for colleagues to have to deal with these issues throughout the firebreak.”

After announcing the measure in short notice, Welsh first minister later clarified that retailers could use their ‘discretion’ around whether or not to sell non-essential goods.

Speaking to ITV Wales News on Sunday, Mark Drakeford said: “I won’t need – I don’t think – to buy clothing over this two weeks and I think many, many people in Wales will be in that position too. For me, it won’t be essential.

“But I recognise that there will be some people who for entirely unexpected reasons which they couldn’t have foreseen will need to buy items. In those circumstances where those welfare reasons are at stake, we will make sure that our supermarkets understand they have the discretion to apply the rules differently.”

(With Agencies)