The question of what constitutes an essential item has become a vexed and politically charged one in Wales as the country heads into a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown.
With most high-street shops forced to close, the Welsh government has said it is only fair that supermarkets are not allowed to sell non-essential items either.
This means shoppers will be able to buy food and household supplies from their local supermarket during the lockdown, which begins at 6pm on Friday, but not clothes, toys, electrical goods, games or garden items.
Items for the house, such as batteries, light bulbs and rubber goods, can still be purchased – but not utensils, crockery, furniture, bedding or “decorative items” for the home.
A pumpkin? Supermarkets might still be able to sell them, as they are a food item. If they happened to be an inedible object that children carved into Halloween decorations, they would almost certainly not be allowed.
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The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, said supermarkets only selling essential goods during the firebreak was “a simple matter of fair play”: “We are requiring many hundreds of small businesses to close on the high street right across Wales. We cannot do that and then allow supermarkets to sell goods that those people are unable to sell.”
Drakeford was also keen to stop people lingering in supermarket aisles perusing luxuries. “This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.”
The Labour leader denied that he was anti-supermarket. “It is a straightforward matter of fairness – we are in this together here in Wales,” Drakeford said.
Retail lobbyists expressed concerns that the rules were difficult to navigate, while the Conservatives in Wales went further. Their health spokesperson, Andrew RT Davies, said it was an example of power going to the heads of Labour.
“This is a dangerous path for Mark Drakeford and his fellow socialist commissars to go down. Who are they to determine what is essential? That varies by individual and should not be a decision taken by the state. It’s power-crazed nonsense.”
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