Have your say: Should supermarkets sell essential items only during lockdown?

Ellen Manning
·3 min read
Shelves in grocery store aisle
Shoppers will only be able to buy 'essential' items in supermarkets in Wales during the firebreak lockdown. (Getty)

Supermarkets in Wales will only be allowed to sell ‘essential goods’ during the coronavirus firebreak lockdown, the First Minister has announced.

Mark Drakeford said supermarkets won’t be able to sell things like clothing and hardware during the 17-day lockdown, which starts on Friday.

He said the move would ensure a “level playing field”, given that many retailers will be forced to close during the period.

While shops selling food, off-licences and pharmacies can stay open, stores like clothing retailers will have to close as part of the so-called ‘firebreak’ lockdown.

The move has sparked criticism from many, with some questioning how authorities intended to define ‘essential’ and other accusing the Welsh government of being ‘power mad’.

Conservative shadow health minister Andrew RT Davies tweeted: “The power is going to their heads.”

He later added: “Is a flagon of Strongbow deemed essential? What about some much-needed underpants if you’re caught short?

“I do hope there is some published guidance on what the Labour commissars deem as essential.”

The announcement was made by Drakeford at a Senedd committee in response to a question from Conservative MS Russell George who said it was “unfair” to force independent clothing and hardware retailers to close while similar goods were on sale in major supermarkets.

The First Minister said they would be “making it clear” to supermarkets that they are only able to open parts of their business that provide essential goods to people, adding: “we will make sure there is a more level playing field in those next two weeks”.

From Friday all leisure and non-essential retail will be closed and including clothes shops, furniture shops and car dealerships.

Shops allowed to remain open include supermarkets and other food retailers, pharmacies, banks and post offices.

Under the law, firms conducting a business that provides a mixed set of services will be allowed to open if they cease conducting the service that must close.

Watch: Small business owners express concerns over Wales’ ‘firebreak’ lockdown

Sue Davies, from consumer group Which?, said the announcement about essential goods would cause “confusion”, particularly among the vulnerable.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “Retailers must not be forced to stop making products available to customers just because ministers don’t think they’re essential.

“These regulations are badly thought out, providing little to no notice to retailers, and must be scrapped to avoid chaos in shops across Wales.

“The confusion and confrontations between customers and shopworkers that this rule will trigger will ultimately lead to more contacts and time spent in proximity to other people, which is the exact opposite of what ministers are aiming to achieve.”

Watch: Can you catch coronavirus twice?