The Coronavirus pandemic has been characterised by uncertainty. To an extent, this is understandable. After all, we knew nothing about the disease when it first began creeping across the planet a little more than a year ago. Our governments acted with good intentions and, we can assume, did their upmost to balance our interests and keep us safe. But as time went on and we learnt more about the disease, the less acceptable we should find dithering, ill-thought through advice. As a devolved nation in charge of its own pandemic response, Wales had every opportunity to act with precision and conviction. Ultimately they failed to do so, with their ‘non-essential’ nightmare epitomising their half-baked approach.
When Wales was plunged back into lockdown on the 19th December, the Welsh Government stated that non-essential items should not be sold in supermarkets without official guidance to explain what was considered non-essential. This was not the first time that the Welsh Government imposed the restrictions, which were initially introduced in the November firebreak lockdown. Once again and with no other choice, supermarkets were forced to decide for themselves what they could and could not sell which inevitably led to much controversy. Tesco were forced to apologise after a staff member refused to sell sanitary products to a customer and social media erupted with claims that particular banned products were wrongfully put on the list.
A viral Facebook post by Sally Love mocked the Welsh Government’s decision to place clothing under the “non-essential” category, while alcohol could still be sold just a few aisles over. She received over 2,000 comments and 24,000 shares unanimously agreeing with the point she raises. How can alcohol be sold and yet a parent cannot buy a new romper for their child if theirs gets ruined?
With the restrictions coming back into force mere days before Christmas, shoppers then faced unexpected problems buying presents. Toys, games, and books were all considered non-essential and not everyone has access to online shopping. However, not all supermarkets had signage or barriers in place to stop their customers from purchasing these items, so many were able to anyway. It would take a brave retail assistant to refuse selling a toy to a parent days before Christmas.
However, a recent holiday was not affected, much to the criticism of shoppers who shared their thoughts on social media. Valentines Day flowers, cards, and gimmick presents were widely available to purchase whilst electrical items such as chargers and hairdryers were still blocked off.
Since the Welsh Government’s guidelines were not clear – as with the firebreak lockdown – certain shops still happily sold hairdryers or candles, while their competitor down the road boarded up the items, restricting them to their customers. Since the economy is in a dire condition, many companies could begin to suffer as they feel unable to sell some of their most appealing products.
Not only did the supermarkets, such as Tesco, seem to have no regard to the needs of the general public, they also have no regard for the environment. Most stores covered up the non-essential deemed items with masses of single-use plastic sheets which will eventually be thrown away, leaving more clutter in landfill. It seems as though what the governments and retailers need to understand is that climate change and other issues still exist despite the pandemic.
While the purpose of the non-essential items ban is to stop people from unnecessarily leaving their house, people will still find a way to bend the rules. As one of the only times we are permitted to leave our houses is to go shopping, it is not a surprise that people would want to browse in the books aisle for a slight bit of escapism from the dreary situation that we find ourselves in.
Despite the signage, the blockades, the plastic sheets, ITV have reported that customers have still attempted to remove these in order to obtain a “non-essential” item. Examples such as this leave us to question whether it is all really worth it and to that, I say I do not think that it is.
While we are all stuck at home, it should not be a liberty to purchase a book in a supermarket, buy a card to send to our loved ones when we are unable to see them, or buy a toy for a child to keep them occupied while their parents work. What the pandemic has shown us so far is that the public will always find a way to flaunt the rules and there is no doubt that retail workers will be inundated with abuse from customers, when they are only trying to do their jobs when they are likely to disagree with the rule themselves. It just seems like too much effort for very little gain – but unfortunately, the Welsh Government are unwavering on their decision, not listening to the voices they are elected to represent. Whether the electorate will retaliate to this lack of care in the next election remains to be seen, but it has undoubtedly marred their record.
Words by Lauren Taylor