Welsh Government to review 'clarity' of non-essential item ban in supermarkets

The Welsh Government will review a ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items during the firebreak lockdown, the First Minister has announced.

It comes after more than 60,000 people signed a petition calling for it to be lifted, with shoppers arguing banned items such as electronics and clothing are essential.

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

Mark Drakeford had initially defended the decision, saying it was a matter of fairness to other shops required to close during the 17-day period.

But after growing criticism, he said on Twitter that ministers will be reviewing "how the weekend has gone" and "making sure that common sense is applied".

Wales' Health Minister Vaughan Gething said that allowing non-essential retail to open during the country's two-week firebreak lockdown would "undermine the point" of the restrictions.

"We're having a really difficult stay-at-home period to make sure more people are alive," Mr Gething told Sky News.

"If we decided that larger retailers could carry on selling those items, we know we'd have the situation that Ireland faces right now, where smaller retailers are significantly unhappy and calling for action to be taken.

"If we then allow all non-essential retail to open then we'll undermine the point and the purpose of a package of measures to help save people's lives."

The clothing area in a supermarket near Cardiff is deemed non-essential items and is cordoned off. Credit: PA

Mr Gething said many retailers had online shops which people could buy non-essential items from during the lockdown.

A Welsh Government spokesperson confirmed that items found in other essential shops – such as stationery and greetings cards – could still be sold in supermarkets during the lockdown.

Supermarket aisles selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homewares have been closed off to the public.

Parts of shelves in a supermarket near Cardiff are cordoned off. Credit: PA

The petition calling for the ban to be reversed states: "We do not agree that this is a prudent or rational measure, and will create more harm than good.

"We do not agree for example that parents should be barred from buying clothes for their children during lockdown while out shopping."

The guidance states supplies for the "essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household" - such as batteries, lightbulbs and rubber gloves - can be sold.

Images posted on social media show aisles selling products such as clothes, greetings cards and books blocked off. Credit: Adam Hale/PA

On Sunday morning, the health minister said the restriction had been applied differently in stores across Wales.

"We're reviewing with supermarkets the understanding and the clarity and the policy because there's been different application in different parts," Vaughan Gething told The Andrew Marr Show.

"We all need to step back and remember why the firebreak has been introduced, to recognise that it is hard on lots of people, but we're in a week where we've already seen 61 deaths take place here in Wales.

"Just about a month ago there were only six deaths in a week so coronavirus is taking off. We are seeing more people lose their loves."

The ban was announced in the Senedd on Thursday after Conservative MS Russell George said it was "unfair" to force independent clothing and hardware retailers to shut while similar goods were on sale in major supermarkets.

Mr Gething said the Welsh Government had worked with supermarkets on the ban and discussed which items were affected by it.

"We'll talk to them again on Monday so everyone understands the position we're in to have some clarity," he said.

"It's also about reducing the opportunity for contacts. That's what we're really trying to do - we're asking people to stay at home to stay lives, that really is right back where we are."

Wales' firebreak came into force at 6pm on Friday, with people once again being told to stay at home. Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Retail Consortium called for the ban to be "dropped quickly" and warned it could result in the "safe flow of customers" being undermined due to changes in store layouts.

Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, lobbied for Welsh Parliament to be recalled so members can discuss the ban.

He described the popularity of the petition as a "clear sign" that people in Wales want the rule "scrapped immediately".

Under the firebreak rules, people can only leave their home for limited reasons, such as to buy food and medicine, provide care or take exercise, and must work from home where possible.

Leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses are closed, along with community centres, libraries and recycling centres, while places of worship are shut other than for funerals or wedding ceremonies.