The Welsh ‘trolley police’ rules descended further into confusion today as ministers said people can buy non-essential goods in supermarkets – but only if they are essential.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced a rethink of the terms of the 17-day ‘firebreak’ coronavirus lockdown after admitting that the public was ‘fed up’ and ‘common sense’ was needed.
A backlash has been gathering pace, with tens of thousands of people signing a petition amid bewilderment that alcohol is seen as ‘essential’ but school uniform, vacuum cleaners and hairdryers are not.
Supermarkets have actively taped off shelves of ordinary goods, blocking off entire aisles or covering them in plastic.
But Labour leader Mr Drakeford and his team have risked compounding the chaos by saying that shops can now use their ‘discretion’.
Buying underwear is off limits after the draconian move by the Welsh authorities, which will last for another two weeks
Health minister Vaughan Gethin told Sky News this morning that they were ‘clarifying’ the rules. Mark Drakeford (right) told ITV Wales News last night that he understood people might need to buy non-essential products ‘for entirely unexpected reasons which they couldn’t have foreseen’
Health minister Vaughan Gethin told Sky News this morning that they were ‘clarifying’ the rules.
‘We are looking to have that clarity for everyone so you don’t see cards for example sealed up in one shop but available in another,’ he said.
He added: ‘If there really are exceptional circumstances and someone needs what would otherwise be a non-essential item, that that can happen as well.’
Mr Drakeford ducked out of an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday as the controversy raged.
But he told ITV Wales News last night that he understood people might need to buy non-essential products ‘for entirely unexpected reasons which they couldn’t have foreseen’ during the 17-day period.
Around 60,000 people have signed a petition submitted to the Welsh Parliament calling for the ban to be immediately reversed.
Under the firebreak lockdown, which began at 6pm on Friday and will end on November 9, non-essential retail including clothes shops, furniture stores and car dealerships must close.
Supermarkets have been told they must only sell essential items to discourage people from spending more time than necessary in shops and be fair to retailers who have to shut.
Mr 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.’
Mr Drakeford said ministers would meet with supermarkets today to discuss the ban.
Whole areas of supermarkets have been closed off in line with the restrictions imposed by Welsh ministers
Retailers have been ordered to sell only essential goods and so many supermarket aisles are roped off and products covered up
Items including children’s clothes are covered up ‘in line with government guidelines’ at a supermarket in Cardiff today
Amid widespread protests against the rules, Chris Noden went shopping in Newport, Gwent wearing just his boxer shorts and a face mask because ‘clothes are non essential items’
He added: ‘They will want to do the right thing, I know, and our job is to be alongside them to make sure that is clear for everybody.’
He also refused to rule out the possibility of a second firebreak lockdown in Wales early next year.
The current restrictions should give a pathway to Christmas ‘without needing a period of this severity of restraint between now and then’, he said.
‘In the new year, who knows what position we will face,’ Mr Drakeford said.
‘If things were to be again as serious as they are in Wales today, nobody can rule out us needing to take further extraordinary measures.
‘But if we do, it will be because it is the only way that we are able to deal with this deadly virus.’
The ban on selling non-essential items 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.
Yesterday the Welsh Retail Consortium called for the restriction to be ‘dropped quickly’.
Labour leader Mr Drakeford has been facing criticism over the ban on non-essential sales during the ‘firebreak’ lockdown, and tweeted on Saturday night admitting people were ‘fed up’
It warned that the ‘safe flow of customers’ could be undermined due to changes in store layouts to cordon off areas.
Guidance previously published by the Welsh Government said certain sections of supermarkets must be ‘cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public’ during the two-week lockdown.
These include areas selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homewares.
Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, has asked for the 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.
Yesterday 1,104 people were reported to have tested positive for coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 42,681.
Public Health Wales said five people with Covid-19 had died, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic rising to 1,777.