The security guards were looking jumpy as we trundled into the vast Tesco ‘Extra’ megastore just outside Newport at lunchtime yesterday. And who can blame them?
Some 24 hours earlier, they’d confronted a local man called Chris Noden, who’d wheeled his trolley across the threshold while completely naked aside from his underpants, a face mask, and some extravagant tattoos.
‘Clothes are now deemed non-essential,’ announced Noden’s wife, Dawn, who followed just behind.
‘Mark Drakeford [Wales’s First Minister] said they are non-essential. Your store’s policy says they are non-essential. So let him in!’
Socks were allowed, but not tights. Baby clothes could be purchased, but the aisle selling toddler gear was blocked off. Guy Adams is seen above in a supermarket in Wales
There followed a heated discussion in which the hapless guard insisted that clothing is, in fact, very essential indeed if you want to tread the hallowed aisles of Tesco.
A video of the incident, that quickly went viral after being uploaded to Facebook by the formidable Dawn, saw the couple sternly advised that if they had a problem with that state of affairs they should ‘take it up with the government’.
They won’t be the only ones doing so, judging by the furious punters I bumped into on a surreal tour of Spytty Park, an out-of-town shopping centre just off the M4.
In Boots, they’d responded to recent edicts from the Welsh First Minister’s shopping Stasi – who have outlawed purchases of goods deemed ‘non-essential’ – by banning the sale of aftershave and make-up.
Socks were allowed, but not tights. Baby clothes could be purchased, but the aisle selling toddler gear was blocked off. Hairdryers were off limits, but for some reason, they were still letting people buy Brita water filters.
‘Ridiculous,’ said Pat Rees, who’d popped in to pick up a prescription for her elderly mother.
The security guards were looking jumpy as we trundled into the vast Tesco ‘Extra’ megastore just outside Newport at lunchtime yesterday. And who can blame them? Some 24 hours earlier, they’d confronted a local man called Chris Noden, who’d wheeled his trolley across the threshold while completely naked aside from his underpants, a face mask, and some extravagant tattoos
‘They say stuff isn’t essential, but nothing is essential until you need it. Hairdryers aren’t essential until one breaks. And who the Hell is Mark Drakeford to tell me I can’t buy lipstick?’
At Tesco, they’ve actually banned books. Black and yellow scene-of-crime tape is preventing access to shelves ‘in line with government guidelines’ – no sinister historical precedents there! – though, oddly, magazines remain on sale for now on the shelves opposite.
Meanwhile a six-foot-high wall of toilet roll has been erected at either end of the clothes department in order to stop bourgeois shoppers updating their wardrobe.
And with rain forecast to continue through half-term, and Welsh families banned from leaving their homes, the sale of such seditious middle-class products as board games, toys, puzzles, DVDs and video games has been declared verboten.
‘This is mad,’ said Mark Evans, who I bumped into at the Tesco pharmacy.
‘They’ve just told me I’m not allowed to buy an electric razor, because the government says you can’t sell anything that’s battery powered. But six feet away, they’re selling normal razors. They’re talking the p***. It’s the arrogance of power, isn’t it?’
Elsewhere, there were rumours (currently unconfirmed) of checkout assistants at some stores banning the sale of pumpkins to shoppers who intend to turn them into Halloween lanterns (only those using them as food were allegedly allowed past the till.
In Cardiff, the Mail visited an outlet of The Range where shoppers were being interrogated about the purpose of their visit before they were allowed to cross the threshold.
This absurd state of affairs has come about because of a decision by Mr Drakeford’s Labour administration to impose a ‘fire-break’ lockdown on Wales – as per Keir Starmer’s UK-wide policy – for a period of 17 days, from 6pm on Friday, in an effort to halt a ‘second-wave’ of Covid.
Much like in March, leaving home for almost any reason apart from exercise, (some) work, and visiting stores which sell food, fuel and other ‘essential’ supplies has been declared illegal.
This time, however, they have decided to go one step further.
In a move virtually unprecedented in the UK outside wartime, they have decided which ‘essential’ goods shoppers are allowed to put in their baskets.
Elsewhere, there were rumours (currently unconfirmed) of checkout assistants at some stores banning the sale of pumpkins to shoppers who intend to turn them into Halloween lanterns (only those using them as food were allegedly allowed past the till. A book aisle is seen closed off by tape
Which is why on Thursday – roughly 24 hours before the lockdown started – written guidance was issued prohibiting the sale of a host of products, including clothes, homeware, toys, phones, and electrical goods.
The lengthy document outlining the move said that stores allowed to remain open would have to ensure that areas where they usually sell these products were ‘cordoned off, or emptied, and closed to the public’.
Cue outrage. And while Mr Drakeford claimed the rules were designed to make things ‘fair’ to retailers forced to close during his lockdown, critics pointed out that shoppers would simply take their custom online.
As North Wales police and crime commissioner Arfon Jones put it, ‘the only people who benefit will be online sellers like Amazon’.
Other political opponents regard the very concept of State intrusion into the contents of people’s shopping trolleys as sinister.
‘It’s regulation after regulation, a constant barrage, like in one of those Eastern European dictatorships, where they used to make lists of everything people were and weren’t allowed to do,’ says Andrew RT Davies, the Tory shadow health spokesman for Wales.
‘They say they’re doing it to keep the country safe. But when they shot people climbing over the Berlin Wall they used to say the same thing.
‘The rhetoric is the same, and the sad thing is that it breeds contempt not just for these rules but for all the rules that are being introduced to combat this pandemic. In fact, it has turned Wales into a laughing stock.’
In some areas, things got off to a seriously fractious start when the new policy came in. In Bangor on Friday night, one Gwilym Owen marched into a different branch of Tesco and began ripping apart plastic sheets that were preventing shoppers from accessing children’s clothes. ‘Rip the f***ers off!’ he shouted. ‘Kids’ f***ing clothes! It is a f***ing disgrace!’
Mr Owen was arrested and charged with criminal damage, along with a range of public order offences.
In Cardiff, a woman called Chelsea Jones, whose daughter was admitted to hospital late on Saturday, told the BBC that she’d been unable to buy her child new pyjamas to replace a set that were ‘soaked in blood’ after the nearby supermarket refused to sell them.
‘I was driving around crying in a panic trying to find somewhere that I am able to pick up some essentials for my child,’ she said.
‘I have never felt so angry, frustrated or upset, ever. You just never know when a ‘non-essential item’ will become ‘essential’ to you. I am not one to undermine the seriousness of Covid and always try my best to follow the rules, but these rules need to change.’
As surreal pictures of cordoned off shopping aisles flood the internet, Drakeford has said he will ‘review’ the bizarre rules tomorrow
Some 60,000 people have now signed a petition calling for Mr Drakeford’s government to do just that.
They include Robert Stone, a businessman from Penarth, who had spent several hours touring South Wales in search of paper for his computer printer. Two previous supermarkets sent him packing. However Newport’s Tesco Extra was allowing the sale of stationery.
‘I need paper to do my job, because they won’t let me go into the office next week,’ he said.
‘Because of their stupid rules, I’ve just wasted half a day, and gone into three separate stores in two different cities. How is that helping anyone stop the spread of Coronavirus?’
As surreal pictures of cordoned off shopping aisles flood the internet, Drakeford has said he will ‘review’ the bizarre rules tomorrow.
However his senior ministers spent yesterday insisting that the rules will be clarified, rather than scrapped.
Meanwhile, there remains one place in Wales where clothes, books, and even pints of draft beer can still be freely bought and sold: Cardiff International Airport. And who owns and operates it? Why, Mr Drakeford’s Welsh government.
Wales faces ANOTHER ‘fire break’ after Christmas: Welsh ministers warn multiple lockdowns will be needed until vaccine is found – as they admit ‘trolley police’ ban on shops selling non-essential goods is NOT working
By James Tapsfield, Political Editor for MailOnline
Welsh ministers yesterday revealed they are already planning for another ‘firebreaker’ lockdown after Christmas – as they conceded their ‘trolley police’ ban on shops selling non-essential goods is not working properly.
Despite the 17-day squeeze only having been in place since Friday, deputy economy minister Lee Waters urged people to brace for a re-run in January or February.
The warning came as First Minister Mark Drakeford signalled a U-turn is coming on the ban on shops selling non-essential goods, saying he recognised the public was ‘fed up’ and ‘common sense’ was needed.
A backlash has been gathering pace, with bewilderment that alcohol is seen as ‘essential’ but school uniform, vacuum cleaners and hairdryers are not.
Supermarkets have actively taped off shelves of ordinary goods, blocking off entire aisles or covering them in plastic.
But critics have branded the move ‘madness’ and said the only person to benefit will be Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, as shoppers will just buy things online instead.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said he recognised that people were ‘fed up’ as he hinted at a rethink on the draconian move, saying ‘common sense’ was needed
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething suggested the review in Wales would look at why the rules were not being applied consistently
Labour leader Mr Drakeford has been facing criticism over the ban on non-essential sales during the ‘firebreak’ lockdown, and tweeted last night admitting people were ‘fed up’
The Welsh Government was also unable to provide clarity over what goods counted as ‘essential’, with one minister instead saying that he hoped retailers would have a ‘grown-up understanding’.
More than 50,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Welsh Government to reverse the ban, which it described as ‘disproportionate and cruel’.
And last night Mr Drakeford tweeted: ‘Thank you for all your efforts over the last 24 hours to stay at home. We know people are fed up.
Non-essential or essential? What we know about what goods are banned in Wales’ lockdown firebreak
First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that non-essential items should not be sold during the country’s firebreak lockdown.
So far the Welsh government has not published a public list of what these goods include.
The supermarkets have also not responded on whether they have been given specific instructions on what they cannot sell.
But it appears these items cannot be sold during the 17 days of restrictions:
- Other kitchen goods such as microwaves and toasted sandwich makers
- Phone chargers
- Electrical products
- Scented candles
- Children’s toys
- Towels and cushions
- Wrapping paper
‘It’s not easy, but we all have a responsibility to stop the virus spreading.
‘We’ll be reviewing how the weekend has gone with the supermarkets and making sure that common sense is applied.
‘Supermarkets can sell anything that can be sold in any other type of shop that isn’t required to close. In the meantime, please only leave home if you need to.’
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething suggested the review would look at why the rules were not being applied consistently.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘We’re reviewing with supermarkets the understanding and the clarity and the policy because there’s been different application in different parts.
‘We all need to step back and remember why the firebreak has been introduced, to recognise that it is hard on lots of people, but we’re in a week where we’ve already seen 61 deaths take place here in Wales.
‘Just about a month ago there were only six deaths in a week so coronavirus is taking off. We are seeing more people lose their loves.’
He said the Welsh Government had worked with supermarkets on the ban and discussed which items were affected by it.
‘We’ll talk to them again on Monday so everyone understands the position we’re in to have some clarity,’ Mr Gething said.
‘It’s also about reducing the opportunity for contacts. That’s what we’re really trying to do – we’re asking people to stay at home to stay lives, that really is right back where we are.’
Speaking on BBC Radio Wales’s Sunday Supplement, Mr Waters said: ‘The projections and papers we published on our worse-case scenario projections show it is likely we are going to need another firebreak in January or February.’
He said the first and second lockdowns came too late and cases and deaths are rising again.
‘We are doing our best to flatten the curve. We can’t stop the curve, we can’t stop the virus spreading. Our best hope is to wait for a vaccine to help us bring it under control.’
Mr Drakeford’s tweet followed a statement from the Welsh Government earlier on Saturday, which insisted the ban was ‘not for the sake of being difficult’.
A spokesman confirmed that items found in other essential shops – such as stationery and greetings cards – could still be sold in supermarkets during the lockdown.
Guidance previously published by the Welsh Government said certain sections of supermarkets must be ‘cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public’ during the two-week period.
These include areas selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homewares.
Supplies for the ‘essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household’ – such as batteries, lightbulbs and rubber gloves – can be sold during the lockdown.
Images posted on social media showed aisles selling products such as children’s clothes, greetings cards and book blocked off, with plastic sheeting placed over items to prevent shoppers from accessing them.
Retailers have been ordered to sell only essential goods and so many supermarket aisles are roped off and products covered up
Whole areas of supermarkets have been closed off in line with the restrictions imposed by Welsh ministers
The petition calling for the ban to be reversed immediately states: ‘We do not agree that this is a prudent or rational measure, and will create more harm than good.
‘We do not agree for example that parents should be barred from buying clothes for their children during lockdown while out shopping.’
Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said he had written to the presiding officer of the Welsh Parliament calling for members to be recalled to discuss the ban.
He described the popularity of the petition as a ‘clear sign’ that people in Wales want the rule ‘scrapped immediately’.
One video posted on social media appeared to show a man ripping down plastic sheeting that was covering clothing aisles in a supermarket.
This week police revealed extraordinary plans to patrol the Anglo-Welsh border to stop families from crossing over for a half-term holiday as Wales was plunged into a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown.
Officers said they would try to stop caravans sneaking into England from Wales and deter Welsh motorists defying Mr Drakeford’s ‘power-mad’ orders from making ‘non-essential’ journeys.
Gloucestershire Police announced an operation covering routes from Wales into the Forest of Dean where officers would stop motorists travelling into England to find out what they were doing.
Drivers would be encouraged to turn around and head back to Wales if officers ‘are not satisfied with their explanation’, a spokesman said. If they refuse, police will tell forces in Wales so they can issue fines.
But drivers were later seen crossing the border on the A494 at Queensferry and on the A5445 between Chester and Wrexham in a breach of the new restrictions.
Mr Drakeford has threatened to use number plate recognition cameras to fine English drivers crossing into his country.
His call was echoed by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who threatened to roll-out a similar travel ban across Scotland to stop people travelling from virus hotspots in England.
Clothes: As well as children’s clothes, adults’ shirts were also seen taped off at the same Cardiff Asda store on Friday
Clothes: Underwear and women’s shirts, dressing gowns and even bras were off-limits to customers at this Tesco store in Wales
But the Police Federation of England and Wales has revealed the ban is ‘unenforceable’, adding policing which is ‘already over-stretched due to the pandemic’ would be complicated by the measure.
Wales was plunged into a draconian ‘firebreak’ lockdown at 6pm yesterday and it is expected to wreck the Welsh economy.
Under the measures, which will last 17 days, people will be asked to stay at home and to leave only for a limited number of reasons, including exercise, buying essential supplies, or to seek or provide care.
MPs have hit out at the extreme restrictions, with MP for Tonbridge and Malling, Tom Tugendhat, blasting the Welsh Government for ‘destroying’ jobs on the high street.
He took to social media and wrote: ‘This is how you destroy jobs on the high street and push them online. What shops can’t sell, Amazon will deliver.’
Meanwhile, supermarket staff covered up kettles and phone chargers on shelves as Mr Drakeford banned the sale of ‘non-essential’ items.
Tesco and Lidl workers became Wales’ first ‘trolley police’ as they were seen hiding shelves of ‘non-essential’ products behind plastic sheets to stop customers buying them ahead of the start of the restrictions, which came in earlier yesterday.
Plastic barriers and stacks of drinks crates were also set up to block off certain aisles while other items were taped off by staff as part of efforts to follow the draconian new rules.
At other major supermarkets, Sainsbury’s said staff have been working ‘around the clock’ to put changes in place, while Waitrose said it was reviewing government guidance and Asda claimed it had been given ‘very little time’ to implement the new rules.
Four members of staff at a Tesco store in Pontypool could be seen inspecting the cover-up for a 20-minute trial run ahead of the latest restrictions coming into force, with witnesses admitting they’d ‘never seen anything like it’.
Mr Drakeford described stopping supermarkets from selling non-essential products during the firebreak lockdown as ‘a straightforward matter of fairness’.
Wales’ Labour leader could not hide his frustration as he was repeatedly questioned on the restrictions, which are now in force for 17 days. He said they were ‘fair’ and crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
He told a press conference in Cardiff on Friday that any suggestion that the ban, which was announced on Thursday, was based on his own politics was ‘nonsensical’.
He said: ‘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.
‘And we are looking to minimise the amount of time that people spend out of their homes during this two-week period.
‘This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.’
He said trying to find exceptions to the rules was ‘just the wrong’ approach and called on people in Wales to not use the firebreak to do things that they do not have to.
‘It is a straightforward matter of fairness – we are in this together here in Wales,’ he added.
He was slammed for the stance by TV host Kay Burley who argued that her hairdryer was a necessary item, despite the Welsh leader claiming it classed as a ‘non-essential’ item.
Supermarket customers in Wales yesterday claimed the sale of duvets, bedding and electricals had been stopped by Tesco staff who covered the shelves in plastic.
Tesco customer Jamie Cole, 31, said the aisle containing kettles and phone chargers was also ‘completely closed off’ despite them being ‘needed’ as temperatures nationwide begin to drop.
Mr Cole said: ‘I was shocked, it’s quite bad. Bedding should be available for kids and mothers. We’re coming up to winter, it’s cold outside, I couldn’t believe it.
‘I don’t have kids of my own but my friend and my sister have kids, she’s quite shocked too. They rely on Tesco as it’s the only supermarket in our town.
‘This was today at 10.49am, the restrictions don’t come into effect until 6pm and all the other supermarkets are fine. The staff are only following orders, It’s happened so quickly. They only announced it at about 7pm last night.
‘I’m 30-odd and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. You abide by the rules then they do this, it’s quite intimidating. There was another aisle that was completely closed off too, that was the stationery aisle and electricals.
‘If you needed a kettle or phone charger, that aisle was completely closed off. I’ve done a bit of homework and there’s no list of essential items on the Wales Government website.
‘I guess it’s the supermarket that decides what items are essential.’
A spokesperson for Tesco confirmed to MailOnline: ‘Our colleagues across Wales will be working incredibly hard today so we can comply with the Welsh Government’s ban on selling ‘non-essential’ goods to our customers from 6pm this evening.’
It came after Mr Drakeford snapped as he was roasted over his ban on the shops selling the items in his lockdown.
The Labour First Minister could not hide his frustration as he was repeatedly questioned on the restrictions, which came into force at 6pm for 17 days.
He insisted they were ‘fair’ and crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
But when he was challenged over whether it was ‘essential’ for parents to buy new school trousers if their children ripped them, Mr Drakeford moaned: ‘It is just the wrong way to approach this whole business.
‘We are back to the ”how do you we get round the rules” approach to coronavirus.’
He added tetchily: ‘There is a bigger prize at stake here than whether you need to buy a candle or not.’
Mr Drakeford insisted that allowing supermarkets to keep selling clothes and other products while smaller retailers were shut would be unacceptable.
‘We’re all in this together here in Wales,’ he told a press conference in Cardiff.
‘This is not a period to be browsing around in supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.’
However, anger rose as Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething made clear alcohol does count as a key item under the confusing new rules – but insisted hair dryers do not.
He also conceded that a ‘line by line’ list of what can be sold would be ‘unusable’, saying they were hoping retailers will have a ‘grown up understanding’.
There are fears it will mean a return to the scenes witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic when there were rows over the contents of people’s shopping trolleys.
Mr Drakeford said this afternoon that local restrictions had succeeded in stemming the spread of the virus, but were not ‘turning it back’.
He compared the progress in place like Torfaen favourably with areas in England like Oldham. But he said the ‘short sharp shock’ of a lockdown was now essential.