Shoppers expressed their anger and frustration yesterday when faced with a baffling range of ‘farcical’ new Covid restrictions as Wales was plunged into a new lockdown.
Confusion over what should be deemed ‘non-essential’ items meant books were banned in some stores but not others, while customers could buy vodka but not baby clothes. ‘The Government has lost the plot,’ was a much repeated refrain.
As the lockdown began, police stepped up border patrols, pulling over vehicles suspected of making ‘unnecessary’ journeys out of Wales.
To the bemusment of shoppers, items taken off sale included birthday cards, bedding, electrical goods, ironing boards, mops, buckets, frying pans, stationery and candles – all placed beyond reach in taped-off supermarket aisles or covered with plastic sheeting.
Non-essential items are cordoned off at a Tesco store in Pengam Green in Cardiff, Wales
In Monmouth, a supermarket did a brisk trade in Christmas crackers and Halloween decorations, which somehow escaped the ban, but felt unable to sell socks and tights.
And one frustrated customer rampaged through a Bangor supermarket tearing plastic coverings from clothes rails.
Gwilym Owen said: ‘I don’t care about the backlash that I may get from this.
‘We’re heading into winter now and who would have thought clothes for children weren’t essential? Denying the public clothing is nothing but immoral. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done.’
As tens of thousands of people signed a petition urging Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford to drop his bizarre measures, one discount store appeared to just to give up altogether and let customers decide themselves, completely undermining the rules.
A sign outside B&M in Llandudno said its staff were not ‘authorised to challenge members of the public so we ask shoppers to judge properly what is essential’.
Fiona Skelton, 57, said: ‘It’s farcical. There is no rhyme or reason to it. They’re selling homeware and electrical goods here, but at supermarkets these things are outlawed. It’s bonkers. No one knows for sure what should be on the banned list.’
In fact, the Welsh government has produced some official advice. However, many who ploughed through it were left none the wiser.
Couched in starchy prose it read: ‘In any cases where there may be doubt as to whether a product can be sold (for example as to whether a product for the home is truly a necessity) shops will be expected to use their best endeavours to consider what should be available.
Products that can’t be sold, but which are normally located amongst goods that can be sold, should ideally either be removed or sealed off, preferably the former.’
By last night, more than 35,000 people had signed the petition.
Shopper Gwilym Owen removes the plastic covering on non-essential items at a supermarket in Bangor, Wales
As well as common sense they appeared to have science on their side.
A report from Sage, the scientific committee that advises the Government, found that closing non-essential shops has only ‘low impact’ on Covid-19 transmission.
However Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said the 17-day firebreak lockdown was the ‘best chance’ for people to see loved ones at Christmas.
Opposition leader Paul Davies has written to the Welsh Parliament calling for members to be recalled to discuss the ban. He said: ‘It is madness that people have been banned from buying books, bins and baby clothes in local shops.
‘The Wales-wide lockdown is disproportionate, unnecessary and biting our economy hard.
‘I’d rather see people being able to buy items in shops in their communities that provide employment to local people than see millions spent with internet giants.’
Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said his members were angry over the rushed lockdown, with the muddled rules issued with just two days’ notice, leaving stores little time to prepare.
Meanwhile, more than 1.4 million people in South Yorkshire became the latest to move to England’s top level of restrictions at midnight. The Tier 3 measures affect areas including Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
Children’s clothes are sealed off to members of the public as Wales is plunged into a new lockdown
Sheffield mayor Dan Jarvis said the measures were needed but he called on the Government to ‘define precisely what the exit criteria is’ from Tier 3.
In London, 18 people were arrested at an anti-lockdown protest yesterday. And it emerged that a week ago police raided a wedding party of more than 200 guests in Southwark, South-East London – well over the 15 limit – leaving the bride facing a fine of £10,000.
In Manchester a man was fined £10,000 for hosting a party attended by more than 50 people.
Small businesses in Wales complained of being shut down while supermarkets and major restaurant chains trade as normal.
At Tesco and Marks & Spencer in Merthyr Tydfil, customers could buy bunches of flowers of all descriptions. But a mile away in the town centre, florist Ann Balston, of Ann’s Flowers, has been forced to shut up shop.
Ann, 71, said: ‘I’m livid. I went to the supplier I’ve been using for 32 years and they wouldn’t let me in.
‘I’m closed while Tesco and M&S are stacked to the ceiling with flowers.
‘The Welsh Government said it would stop this happening to prevent unfair trade and stop small businesses going under. The rules are confusing and they are not being worked fairly.’
Books were on sale at Sainsbury’s in Swansea but at Tesco stores across Wales they were taped up behind a sign saying: ‘We are unable to sell non-essential items at this time.’
At Asda in Llandudno, children’s toys and clothes were behind barriers. But bottles of wine were available in the next aisle.
Mother-of-two Glenys Jones, 49, said: ‘I came to get some knickers for my children – but Mr Drakeford has banned me. It’s absolute madness. He can’t tell me what is essential to my family.’
Tesco shopper is charged with criminal damage and breaching coronavirus regulations after tearing away plastic sheets covering ‘non-essential’ items in Welsh supermarkets
By Tom Pyman and James Gant
A 28-year-old man has been charged with criminal damage and breaching coronavirus regulations after plastic sheets were torn off banned ‘non-essential’ goods in a Welsh supermarket.
Video posted on social media showed covers being ripped down at the store in Tesco in Bangor on Friday night, where staff had wrapped up items deemed not important by the country’s government.
North Wales Police said Gwilym Owen, from Anglesey, has been further charged with several public order offences.
He is due before magistrates on Caernarfon on November 24.
The man in the clip, who was not wearing a mask, shouted: ‘Since when have clothes been exempt?, rip the f***ers off… kids’ f***ing clothes, it is a disgrace.’
A security staff member approached him and he replied: ‘Since when has clothing not been essential.’
The store worker, who was wearing a face covering, confronted him over an F&F label stall while the cameraman ran away from another employee.
Wales was plunged into a draconian ‘firebreak’ lockdown at 6pm on Friday and it is expected to wreck the Welsh economy.
Under the move, which will last 17 days, people have to stay home and leave only for a limited reasons, including exercise, buying essential goods or to provide care.
However, some 17,000 people have signed a petition for the Welsh Government to reduce the restrictions.
The man, who was not wearing a mask, is seen removing covers in a shop which are no longer allowed to sell under the new Welsh lockdown restrictions
The man is heard to shout ‘since when has clothes been exempt?’, ‘rip the f***ers off!’ and ‘kids’ f***ing clothes, it is a disgrace’
Officers will be enforcing Covid-19 restrictions over the weekend in a bid to clamp-down on motorists defying First Minister Mark Drakeford’s ‘power-mad’ attempt to suppress the virus
Elsewhere in Wales’s battle with coronavirus:
- Thousands of people signed a petition calling on the Welsh Government to reverse the ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items amid the firebreak;
- A further 1,324 people tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 41,577;
- Public Health Wales said 16 people with Covid-19 had died, with the total number of deaths in the pandemic rising to 1,772;
- Church leaders wrote to the Welsh Assembly seeking a review of the ‘firebreak’ lockdown that has banned churches in Wales from opening for three Sundays;
- Police last night revealed extraordinary plans to patrol the Anglo-Welsh border to stop families from crossing over for a half-term holiday.
A spokesman for Tesco said: ‘Under new restrictions set out by the Welsh Government, we are currently unable to sell ”non-essential” items in our stores.
‘Our colleagues have worked hard to put these measures in place and we ask that customers please respect these restrictions.’
Opposition leader Paul Davies has written to the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Parliament calling for members to be recalled to discuss the ban.
In a statement alongside the letter, Mr Davies said: ‘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.
‘The Wales-wide lockdown is disproportionate, unnecessary and biting our economy hard. I’d rather see people being able to buy items in shops in their communities that provide employment to local people than see millions spent at online internet giants.’
He said the petition is a ‘clear sign’ that people want the rule to be ‘scrapped immediately and the Welsh Parliament must meet to resolve this matter as soon as possible’.
Social media users have ridiculed the new restrictions while opposition politicians in Wales have called for the parliament to be recalled so they can debate the rules
More than 17,000 people have signed a petition for the Welsh government to limit the restrictions
Workers in supermarkets have been told to cover up ‘non-essential’ items
Social media users have criticised the Welsh Government’s restrictions by preventing the sale of children’s clothes
Others have condemned the the decision to order supermarkets to stop selling books
Opposition politicians in Wales have expressed their concern over the restrictions
Social media users have suggested books and cards can help people’s mental health
A supermarket in Wales – where baby clothes are considered non-essential, but there’s plenty of Smirnoff vodka available to buy
Chris Noden went shopping in Newport, Gwent wearing just his boxer shorts and a face mask because ‘clothes are non essential items’
Mr Noden was stopped by a security guard who claimed he was dressed inappropriately
Meanwhile, a father in Newport, Gwent was stopped by security staff after he was trying to shop in his local Tesco while wearing just a pair of boxer shorts and his mask after clothes were deemed ‘non essential.
Chris Noden, 38, was filmed by his wife, 33, on the attempted shopping trip.
She told a security guard: ‘Clothes are non essential – let him in.’
‘Clothes are deemed now non-essential. Your stores policy says clothes are non essential.
Mr Noden was filmed by his wife Dawn, pictured
‘Let him in to buy some clothes.
‘This is beyond a joke. There are children out there growing that need clothes.
But a security guards replied: ‘He’s not appropriately dressed. Go and take it up with the government.
‘You can’t come in dressed like that.’
The Welsh Government also defended its ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items.
It tweeted today: ‘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.
‘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.’
North Wales Police has been approached for comment.