Open up the aisles: Backlash over bonkers ban on Welsh supermarket essentials

24 October 2020, 22:02 | Updated: 25 October 2020, 14:33

Wales is set to review sales of essential items
Wales is set to review sales of essential items. Picture: Getty

By Kate Buck

The Welsh government has said there will be a "review" of its bonkers ban on supermarket "non-essentials" during the firebreaker lockdown.

As part of the measures to tackle coronavirus in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that all non-essential shops would be forced to 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 had to shut.

But the measure has sparked backlash across the country, forcing the Welsh First Minister to say there will be a "review" on the measure, to "sure that common sense is applied".

Read more: Angry shopper tears down barricades to children's clothing in Wales

Speaking on LBC, Sir Martin Sorrell, Founder and Executive Chairman of S4 Capital and Founder of WPP, the world's largest advertising and PR group, said that the measures constitute a "nanny state".

"Who decides what is essential and what isn't? It's gone a bit too far I think," he told Tom Swarbrick.

He continued: "You may remember in the early days of the pandemic Amazon was faced with exactly the same predicament. They had to determine what was essential and goods that had to be distributed, and what was non-essential.

“I think it has been taken too far and at the end of the day you have to let the consumer decide.”

Rymans owner Theo Paphitis also told LBC he also disagreed with the "nanny state" imposed by the Welsh government.

"What makes them say people don't necessarily need it? If you need a frying pan, you need a frying pan," he stated.

Likening it to the sketch show Yes Minister, he joked: "Who would have thought it? You have to isolate, you have got to stay at home and you have got to wear a hair shirt as well.

"I mean that's basically what they're saying to the people."

On Saturday, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: "Thank you for all your efforts over the last 24 hours to stay at home. We know people are fed up.

"It's not easy, but we all have a responsibility to stop the virus spreading.

"We'll be reviewing how the weekend has gone with the supermarkets and making sure that common sense is applied.

"Supermarkets can sell anything that can be sold in any other type of shop that isn't required to close. In the meantime, please only leave home if you need to."

His tweet followed a statement from the Welsh Government, which insisted the ban was "not for the sake of being difficult".

Read more: Police to patrol routes out of Wales during firebreaker lockdown

Explained: What does a national 'fire break' in Wales mean for you?

Images posted on social media showed aisles selling products such as children's clothes, greetings cards and book blocked off, with plastic sheeting placed over items to prevent shoppers from accessing them.

In Bangor, one man took matters into his own hands after becoming infuriated at the children's winter clothes being blocked off.

Gwilym Owen said he was "taking a stand for what is right" when he ripped the plastic wrapping off winter clothes in Tesco, Bangor.

Mr Own, who was not wearing a mask in the store, said he "had enough" over the new rules, and didn't care about the backlash he may receive.

He has since been charged with criminal damage and breaking coronavirus rules.

The Welsh Lead at the Police Federation Mark Bleasdale old Tom Swarbrick on LBC that police are getting “caught in the middle of this”, with “feelings running high”.

“The longer this goes on there is going to be some - it has been quoted as ‘covid fatigue’,” he added.

“I think the difficulty is the message has still got to be very clear as to what people can and cannot do and why they are being asked to do it.

“That is maybe where this hasn’t been working, that the messaging isn’t clear from the government.”

Children's clothes are barricaded off as the firebreaker lockdown comes into force
Children's clothes are barricaded off as the firebreaker lockdown comes into force. Picture: PA

A petition for the ban to be lifted on the Welsh Parliament's website has now had over 50,000 signatures.

It initially needed only 5,000 signatures to be considered for debate in The Senedd, and is fast becoming the most signed petition ever, closing in fast on the previous record of 40,045.

The petition calling for the ban to be reversed immediately 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."

Read more: Wales enters firebreak lockdown as UK’s Covid cases drop for second day in a row

Read more: "Wales' fire breaker lockdown is highly unlikely to work" - former Public Health Wales chief

Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said he had written to the presiding officer of the Welsh Parliament calling for members to be recalled to discuss the ban.

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

The ban on selling non-essential items was announced in the Senedd on Thursday following a question to Mr Drakeford from Conservative MS Russell George.

The decision has sparked fury
The decision has sparked fury. Picture: PA

Mr George said it was "unfair" to force independent clothing and hardware retailers to shut while similar goods were on sale in major supermarkets.

In a statement published alongside his letter urging a recall of the Senedd, Mr Davies said: "It is madness that people have been banned from buying books, bins and baby clothes in local shops."

He described the lockdown in Wales as "disproportionate, unnecessary and biting our economy hard" and said he would rather see people able to buy items in local shops than "see millions spent at online internet giants".

Under lockdown 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.

Ministers hope that the firebreak will reduce the R value - the number of people each coronavirus case infects - to below one.

A new set of national measures is expected to be introduced in Wales after November 9.