Criticism mounts over 'ludicrous' ban of non-essential items in Welsh supermarkets

The Welsh Government has been criticised after banning supermarkets from selling 'non-essential' items such as clothing and books during Wales' fire-break lockdown.

More than 25,000 people have signed a petition calling for the ban to be lifted, with shoppers arguing that items such as books, electronics, clothing and bedding are essential.

Guidance published by the Welsh Government says certain sections of supermarkets must be "cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public".

These include areas selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homewares.

Supplies for the "essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household" - such as batteries, lightbulbs and rubber gloves - can be sold during the lockdown.

The First Minister said his government had been clear that non-essential retail would close during the 17-day period, which began at 6pm on Friday.

He told a press conference in Cardiff that any suggestion the ban, which was announced on Thursday, was based on his own politics was "nonsensical".

The leader of the opposition in Welsh Parliament has called for parliament to be recalled to discuss the ban.

Paul Davies MS said: "Since the First Minister let it slip that the selling of non-essential items would be banned in all shops during the Wales-wide lockdown there has been anger across Wales.

"It is madness that people have been banned from buying books, bins and baby clothes in local shops. The Welsh Labour-led Government may not think these items are essential, but many will beg to differ."

Andrew RT Davies, shadow health minister for the Welsh Conservatives, labelled the ban as "ludicrous".

"I never thought I'd live in an era where aisles in supermarkets were blanked off because you couldn't buy hairdryers or you couldn't buy baby clothes, or toys for children, when the store is open," he said.

The Welsh Government has said supermarkets can sell items sold in other essential shops, such as stationary. Credit: Andy Davies

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Davies also felt a Wales-wide lockdown was unnecessary - accusing the First Minister of "overreaching" and saying a more localised and targeted approach would have been "more effective and less damaging".

"If you ask the First Minister himself, he can't predict what the outcomes of this lockdown are going to be," he said.

"But what we do know is that it's going to be devastating economically."

Authors including crime-writer Ian Rankin and romantic comedy novelist Cally Taylor have also condemned the move, after supermarket bookshelves were pictured taped up.

A video has also been shared on Twitter appearing to show a man removing the plastic sheeting covering clothes in a supermarket.

Some supermarket aisles have been completely cordoned off. Credit: Andy Davies

The First Minister defended the decision, saying it was "a simple matter of fair play".

We are requiring many hundreds of small businesses to close on the high street right across Wales," Mark Drakeford said.

"We cannot do that and then allow supermarkets to sell goods that those people are unable to sell.

"And we are looking to minimise the amount of time that people spend out of their homes during this two-week period.

"This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods."

The Welsh Government clarified the ban on Saturday, explaining that supermarkets can sell items found in other essential shops – such as stationery.

After it was suggested his government had been too late in communicating the restriction on items to retailers, Mr Drakeford said: "We are making decisions under huge pressure of events and making them as quickly as we are able."

He added: "We said from the very beginning that non-essential retail would close in Wales. All we are doing is clarifying that and remaining consistent with that initial decision."

On Saturday, the health minister said the fire-break lockdown would give people the "best chance" of seeing each other over Christmas.

Vaughan Gething said scientists believe the R value - the number of people each coronavirus case infects - would be reduced to below one as a result.

"We want to be able to get to Christmas with people able to see each other, but we have to look at where we are with the virus, how we're behaving in Wales, whether we're able to effectively suppress it after the firebreak," he told BBC Breakfast.

"This gives us the best chance of doing that, but if I were to tell you what Christmas looks like today then I'd be making it up, I'd be giving people false hope, and that's absolutely what we should not be doing."