People in Wales say a rule banning supermarkets from selling non-essential goods during the country’s 17-day “firebreak” lockdown is confusing – and could damage people’s mental health.
On Thursday, the nation’s first minister Mark Drakeford said the rule was a “simple matter of fair play” for hundreds of small businesses that have been forced to close under lockdown restrictions.
“We are looking to minimise the amount of time that people spend out of their homes during this two-week period,” he added.
“This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.”
According to guidance published on Friday afternoon – just hours before the lockdown is set to begin – the list of “non-essential” supermarket aisles that must be closed off includes electrical goods, telephones and clothes.
Toys and games, products for the garden and homeware products also made the list.
A photo circulating on Twitter showed a supermarket shelf, seemingly stocked with bedding, being covered with plastic.
But people living in Wales have slammed the new regulation as a “step too far”.
Carl Twinney, who lives in Bridgend, told HuffPost UK it felt as if the government was “punishing” people during lockdown.
“What’s more worrying to me is I think it’ll have a big effect on mental health,” the 27-year-old said. “Sometimes when you’re struggling to pass the time, you need things to help keep your brain active like DVDs, PlayStation or Xbox games or puzzles.
“Or maybe you just fancy treating yourself to help cope with low mood – treating yourself may sound silly but it counts as self care and that’s one of the most important things to do to keep going during a lockdown.”
Twinney also questioned how the move would protect small businesses, with people still able to order items online.
“It’s just going to push people to order stuff from online retailers that deliver within 24 hours, so smaller businesses will suffer either way,” he said.
It’s a concern echoed by Gill Phillips, who called it a “confused, last minute announcement that will simply send business to Amazon instead of the Welsh economy”.
“Mark Drakeford thinks no-one needs to buy a hairdryer before November 9 but if mine blew up, I would. And now I would buy it from Amazon.”
Meanwhile, Susie – who is retired and lives in Prestatyn – said the new rule would hit the poorest in society the hardest: “Those with the least who have to live on day-to-day and for whom everything is a struggle at the best of times.”
“It’s ok for people who can afford to order online when their child needs some new trousers because he’s ripped his or some pants or warm socks.”
But for the poorest families, clothes from the supermarket are often the most affordable option, she said.
Susie added: “I am just so angry at the Senedd thinking it can decide what is essential in people’s lives and yet classing alcohol as essential. So a bottle of designer gin is fine, a coat for a child isn’t?”
The circuit-breaker lockdown in Wales – which is due to begin at 6pm on Friday and end on November 9 – comes amid a spike in coronavirus cases across the UK.
On Friday, 20,530 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the UK – 761 of which were in Wales.
As of Thursday, there were 546 coronavirus patients in hospital in the country, 47 of whom were on ventilators.
As the second national lockdown for Wales loomed on Friday, Drakeford said the measures “are about saving lives, not Christmas”.
“That’s the seriousness of the position we are in,” the first minister said. “Our ambition is we will not need to have this level of restriction again in Wales before Christmas.
“I want shops to be able to trade. I want people to be able to prepare. I want to offer people some hope that, provided we all do the right things, then we will still be able to enjoy a version of the holiday that we would have otherwise enjoyed.”