Ministers to review ‘clarity’ of ban on supermarkets selling non-essentials

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The Welsh Government will review the “understanding, clarity and policy” of a ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items during Wales’ firebreak lockdown, Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said.

Mr Gething said the restriction, which has seen aisles cordoned off and plastic sheeting placed over products, had been applied differently in stores across Wales.

More than 50,000 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.

On Saturday evening, First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted that ministers would be “reviewing how the weekend has gone” with supermarkets and “making sure that common sense is applied”.

Mr Gething told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “We’re reviewing with supermarkets the understanding and the clarity and the policy because there’s been different application in different parts.

“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 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.

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

The M4 in Newport on Sunday (Ben Birchall/PA)
The M4 in Newport on Sunday (Ben Birchall/PA)

“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.”

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.

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, 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”.

Children's clothes have been cordoned off (Adam Hale/PA)
Children’s clothes have been cordoned off (Adam Hale/PA)

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.

On Sunday, 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.

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