What the English media is saying about Wales’ supermarket non-essentials ban

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Just one week ago, Wales’ First Minister announced that a fire-break lockdown was needed for Wales in order to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed this winter.

Lasting for 17 days from Friday, October 23, the lockdown was designed to apply to everyone living in Wales and to replace the local restrictions in force in some parts of the country.

The First Minister said the firebreak would be “short” and “sharp” to have a maximum impact. It means that:

  • People must stay at home, except for very limited purposes, such as for exercise
  • People must work from home wherever possible
  • People must not visit other households or meet other people they do not live with either indoors and outdoors
  • No gatherings will be allowed outdoors, such as Halloween or fireworks/Bonfire night or other organised activities
  • All non-food retail, hospitality businesses, including cafes, restaurants and pubs (unless they provide take-away or delivery services), close contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, and events and tourism businesses, such as hotels must close
  • Community centres, libraries and recycling centres will be required to close
  • Face coverings must be worn in indoor public spaces, which remain open, including on public transport and in taxis


A sign at Tesco in Bridgend

But the First Minister later declared that non-essential retail would also be banned in stores remaining open, in order to discourage people from spending more time than necessary in shops and to be fair to retailers who have had to shut.

But the rule has caused division and led to confusion on the first full weekend of the fire-break.

It saw a man charged for entering a Tesco in Bangor and tearing tape and wrapping from non-essential items and another man walk into a supermarket in Newport in his pants and demanding to know from staff whether clothes were essential.

Around 60,000 people have signed a petition submitted to the Welsh Parliament calling for the ban on selling non-essential items in supermarkets over the next two weeks to be scrapped.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, health minister Vaughan Gething said ministers would meet with major retailers on Monday afternoon “to review the regulations and guidance to make sure it is being applied fairly and consistently”, adding that the rules could be revised or tightened if necessary.

This is how writers in the English media reacted to news of the ban on the sale of non-essential items in Wales:

The Spectator – Matthew Lynn

“It would be easy to imagine that the Welsh lockdown is very similar to the national one in April and May.

“In most ways it is. Just about everything has been closed down, expect for a few shops and services that are completely vital to keep everyone alive as they huddle down at home.

“But this week we learned the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has decided to take it one step further. Apparently not only will ‘non-essential’ shops have to close, but the few that remain open will also be banned from selling ‘non-essential’ items.

“Want to buy some socks at Tesco? Sorry, not allowed. Aftershave at Boots? Forget it. Or pick up a book, perhaps, while filling up the car with petrol? That isn’t going to be permitted.

“Apparently, according to Drakeford, he has to create a ‘level-playing field’ so that some shops don’t have any ‘unfair advantage’ during lockdown.”

You can read the full piece here.

The Daily Mail – Max Aitchison

“The man responsible for plunging Wales into a 17-day lockdown is an atheist, a republican – and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, a keen player of the ukulele.

“But then, First Minister Mark Drakeford is not your typical politician.

“He promised to follow ‘radical socialist traditions’ when he was elected Welsh Labour leader in 2018 and, as a long-time supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, backed his bid for the Labour leadership in 2015.

“At the time, he said Mr Corbyn was the candidate ‘whose views most closely reflect my own’.

“But the similarities don’t end there, as Mr Drakeford, 66, also shares the ex-Labour leader’s passion for allotments.

“One of his key campaign pledges in the Welsh Labour Party leadership contest was to double the number of plots across Wales.

“During the March lockdown, Mr Drakeford cycled to his allotment in Cardiff, joking that he had to ‘dig very fast’ because of the one-hour exercise restriction. He once boasted he was the only Welsh politician to have milked a cow.”

You can read the full piece here.

The Telegraph – Michael Deacon

“I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have expected clothes to be deemed non-essential. Particularly at this time of year. I suspect that if I were to stroll naked through Swansea city centre the police would take rather a different view from the government.

“Still, those are the rules. You are no longer permitted to buy clothes from a Welsh supermarket. Apparently the reason is this: Since all clothes shops have been ordered to close during Wales’s “firebreak” lockdown, the Welsh Government thinks it would be unfair to let supermarkets scoop up all the clothes shops’ business. So this new rule is meant to protect the high street.

“But it won’t, of course. Because, unless the Welsh Government has found a way to board up the internet as well, people will simply order their clothes online. Some of them will be people who have never ordered their clothes online before. And, having done so, those people may well think, “Ooh, this is much nicer than having to traipse round the shops all day in the rain. From now on, I think I’ll do all my shopping online. Even after the pandemic is over.”

“And so a rule intended to protect high street shops will actually help to finish them off.”

You can read the full piece here.



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