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New rules on ‘essential’ items in Welsh shops – but are they more confusing?

Written by on 27 October 2020

Fresh guidance has been released about what “essential items” people can buy from supermarkets in Wales during lockdown.

It comes after days of anger over which items count.

But the Welsh government’s latest update was in danger of sparking more confusion by saying that a “sensible system should be introduced” to let customers buy “non-essential items by exception”.

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Wales has gone into lockdown for 17 days

The new list was published on Tuesday evening, following talks with retailers about the policy in force during the 17-day “firebreak” to stem coronavirus cases.

From now on, ministers say the following essential products can be sold:

  • Food and drink
  • Products ancillary to the sale of food and drink, primarily disposable items used for the preparation and storage of food (such as kitchen foil, food bags and cling film) but also basic products necessary to prepare and eat food and drink
  • Products for washing clothes and for cleaning and maintaining the home, including batteries, light bulbs and fuel
  • Toiletries and cosmetic products, including toilet rolls and sanitary products
  • Pharmaceutical products
  • Baby products including equipment, clothes and nappies
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Stationery and greetings cards
  • Pet food and other pet supplies
  • Products for the maintenance of bicycles and cars

The new list had to be issued after a woman said on Monday she could not get hold of sanitary products in a Tesco. The supermarket later apologised.

And another person was seen pulling off plastic sheeting covering some shelves, used to stop customers buying products. A man was later charged by police.

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The Welsh government said they were hopeful the new list “provides a workable solution for retailers and customers”.

Home bargains in Swansea. Pic: Richard Collins
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Stores were told they could not sell some products. Pic: Richard Collins

However they potentially seeded more confusion by suggesting people can still buy non-essential items “by exception under the regulations”.

Asked to clarify who would decide on any exception and how, the government said it was for supermarkets to introduce a practical system and facilitate it.

“We’ll continue to have discussions with supermarkets over the coming days as to how this will be implemented in stores across Wales,” a spokesperson added.

An elderly couple are seen wearing a visor and mask in Knighton, Wales
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The rules have been brought into curb the spread of COVID-19

Under the original advice, stores had been given some licence to decide which items count as essential.

The rules put out last week said: “In any cases where there may be doubt as to whether a product can be sold (for example as to whether a product for the home is truly a necessity) shops will be expected to use their best endeavours to consider what should be available.”