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Welsh shoppers baffled as winter clothes and cleaning items deemed non-essential

4 min read

Baffled shoppers are facing taped-off aisles in supermarkets as Wales' new "firebreak" lockdown prohibits the sale of non-essential goods.

Items like winter clothes, bedding, cleaning supplies and stationery have been classed under the "non-essential" category and won't be available for the next 17 days, causing widespread anger and confusion.

But the Welsh government has defended the move as "a straightforward matter of fairness".

Official guidance said certain sections or aisles of large supermarkets or department stores "must be cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public".

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These include areas selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, and products for the garden, as well as a dedicated section for homeware products.

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

Shops will be expected to use their "best endeavours" to consider what should be available in cases where there may be doubt as to whether a product is essential, the guidance states.

From 6pm on Friday, major supermarkets such as Sainsbury's, Lidl and Tesco blocked off aisles and covered up unavailable items.

People have flocked to Twitter to voice their frustration at not being able to buy certain products.

Town councillor Stephen Ellis, who represents Cheadle West, said: "If you're already buying 'essential' things in the same shop, what difference does it make if you buy a 'non-essential' item – especially as you've forced all other shops to close? Daft policy."

Another social media user posted a photo of taped-off mops, adding: "Welcome to Wales, the only place where in the midst of a pandemic, cleaning supplies can be deemed a non essential purchase.

"Madness. Someone, somewhere surely has the ability to stop this now, please?"

Jessica Tilley wrote: "The photos of supermarkets in Wales covering up 'non essential' items is giving me the creeps.

"So you can't buy stationery if you're working from home. You can't pick up a book, or a winter coat.

"You can't pick up a birthday card to post to family that you're not allowed to visit."

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford has defended the policy, saying people were fairly warned that non-essential retail would close during the 17-day period.

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

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

Mr Drakeford said trying to find exceptions to the rules was "just the wrong" approach and called on people in Wales to not use the firebreak to do things that they do not have to.

"It is a straightforward matter of fairness – we are in this together here in Wales," he said.

He told the press conference that friends and neighbours were often "very willing to help" people if they could not find items they needed, or they could shop online.

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  • Darren Millar, from the Welsh Conservatives, said confusion about the ban was "rife" shortly before the lockdown began.

    "Supermarkets, convenience stores and other shops have no idea which goods the Welsh Labour-led Government regards as non-essential so that they can restrict them from sale," Mr Millar said.

    A Sainsbury's spokesman said staff had been working "around the clock" to put the necessary changes in place, while Waitrose told the PA news agency it was reviewing the Welsh Government's guidance and "working through what this means for our business".

    Tesco said staff were working "incredibly hard" to ensure stores complied, and Asda confirmed the regulations meant only products deemed essential could be sold during the lockdown.

    "We have been given very little time to implement these changes or clarity on what is deemed 'essential'," a spokesman said.

    "We have expressed our deep concerns about the implications for customers accessing products they genuinely need and the risk to our colleagues safety."

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