Wales declares retail therapy a sin: regional Coronavirus lockdown latest

Wales is about to go into a “firebreak” lockdown – and First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has declared that supermarkets will be barred from selling ‘non-essential’ items like clothing. Most retailers will be closed during the firebreak lockdown and that means only pharmacies, off-licences and food shops will be allowed to trade. 

However, this firebreak doesn’t begin until Saturday, leading many retail workers terrified about what pandemonium awaits them today (Friday) as the general public realise that they won’t be able to buy anything deemed “non-essential” for 17 days. 

Empty shelves in March. Picture credit: Tannice Hemming

Many of us will have experienced the sadness of cancelled plans, even if we haven’t lost anyone we love. My own son’s second birthday, occurring on 21 March 2020, was not what we had hoped for. Luckily we’d not long celebrated my daughter’s 4th birthday and our son was too young to appreciate what he was missing. However, had we been unable to buy him any presents, a card or a cake, I think it would have felt really too much. 

So many of us – where we can afford – have found ourselves trying to patch holes in our mental health by buying little treats for ourselves and our children. Clothes might not seem like an essential item to many, but when you have small children, you can’t help but need to buy new items for them. My own two children, during lockdown, grew so much that they didn’t fit into their shoes. They powered through two sizes each in the time we were off. Luckily, as we didn’t go out much (I was pregnant with our third child from December – September) it didn’t really matter too much and we got some sandals from the Pound Shop, but it was a relief to get them some proper footwear when Clarks reopened. The fact you’re forbidden from trying anything on in shops makes life difficult too – especially for those without the credit facilities to be able to buy, then try, especially when many shops are making cash payments a thing of the past. I’ve been known to purchase an item and then try it on at the cash point (when it’s just a jumper or coat I can put on over my own clothes, I’m not mad enough yet to be completely undressing for trousers or skirts!). 

A trip to the supermarket hasn’t been the same since lockdown

Given that supermarket’s own lines of clothes are often the cheapest and most readily available (no time consuming travel into town as an extra trip) it seems ridiculous for Wales to make them inaccessible at the same time that other retailers are being forced to close. I know that the middle aisles of Lidl and Aldi kept me occupied during lockdown – a little treat goes a long way at the moment, when we haven’t got ready access to friends and family. 

What does essential actually mean?

According to the BBC, retailers are unclear about what ‘essential’ really means. There is no definition so they will have to make their own policies. In less than 48 hours. Are knickers and socks essential? How about the last bits of school uniform? Tights? Vests? It seems that a blanket ban on clothes might be imposed at least in some parts of Wales by some retailers, depending on how draconian their measures will be determined to be. Will it be a store manager’s remit to decide, or based on the retailer? If, say, Tesco decide that some items of clothing are essential but Asda decide that they won’t sell any body garb, then surely some retailers will do better out of this firebreak lockdown than others. Once again, the supermarkets will capitalise on the lockdown, meaning independent retailers will once again be smothered by lockdown restrictions, just as they might have been getting back on their feet. 

“Mummy, are crisps really an essential item? Yours and Daddy’s waistline says no…”

At a time when the high street needs trade more than ever before, this latest change to Coronavirus rules will prove too much for many small businesses and we’ll see yet more job losses and people having to struggle. With Westminster deciding they won’t feed those hungry offspring of those who have lost their livelihoods (but will vote through a lovely pay rise for themselves), one has to wonder what on earth we are doing continuing to vote for a bullet to the foot. 

Stay safe, Wales. I hope you can still buy biscuits, even if a pack of 5 new pants isn’t available to you. Nothing I like more than a fresh set of knickers, but losing access to bourbons and custard creams? That would really take the biscuit.

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