Wales is going into a short national lockdown, known as a “firebreak”, but the devolved government is facing criticism for a last-minute change banning shops allowed to stay open from selling some items.
Rules across the country are changing from 6pm on Friday 23 October until Monday 9 November in a bid to suppress a second spike of COVID-19.
With new rules on what people can and can’t do, and with supermarkets facing specific restrictions on what items they can sell, there are plenty of details to unpack.
When is the change happening?
The new rules will come into effect for all Welsh residents from 6pm on Friday 23 October.
The only exceptions are for Remembrance Sunday events held on 7 or 8 November – they must be outside and with fewer than 30 people attending.
Children in Year 7 and 8 may also go back to school after the half-term break, as well as any youngsters who need to attend for exams, or those who go to special schools or pupil referral units.
Could it last longer?
No, is the promise Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething made on Sky News.
But he said people shouldn’t expect to see a significant turnaround in case numbers by the time the firebreak ends, as it will take a few weeks for the hoped-for benefits to materialise.
What are the new rules?
- Non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality businesses to close
- People told to work from home wherever possible, with exceptions for critical workers
- People should only leave home for a limited number of reasons, including exercise, buying essential supplies, or providing care
- Household mixing banned both indoors and outdoors, although those in social bubbles will still be able to meet
- Places of worship to be closed except for weddings and funerals
- Essential shops allowed to remain open may only sell certain items
What can and can’t you buy?
First Minister Mark Drakeford has said shops staying open should sell “essential” items to ensure a “level playing field” for those firms forced to shut.
The list of things provided by the government that people can buy are products which would be normally sold in:
- Food and drink retailers (including off-licences)
- Building supplies and hardware stores
- Pharmacies and chemists
- Bicycle shops
- Petrol stations
- Garages and vehicle hire businesses
- Post offices, banks, building societies and similar
- Pet shops
- Agricultural and aquacultural supplies shops
- Livestock markets and auctions
Mr Drakeford has faced criticism from the Welsh Conservatives, accusing him of ordering “last-minute diktats” and sowing confusion as shops prepare for the rule change.
Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, also said: “Compelling retailers to stop selling certain items, without them being told clearly what is and what isn’t permitted to be sold, is ill-conceived and short-sighted. We hope ministers will rethink this particular part of their fire breaker plan.”
And James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “Retailers must not be forced to stop making products available to customers just because Ministers don’t think they’re essential. These regulations are badly thought out, providing little to no notice to retailers, and must be scrapped to avoid chaos in shops across Wales.”
What about workers who carry out services in people’s homes?
The guidance says any profession whose premises are forced to close should not carry on providing their services in people’s homes.
It explains: “So for example, because there is a prohibition on hairdressers’ shops from opening as this is seen as a non-essential activity, mobile hairdressers are also not permitted to provide their services in clients’ homes or their own homes.
“This is to avoid gatherings of people being displaced from one setting to another, and to minimise unfair distortion of competition between similar businesses.”
What is the punishment for those who break the law?
- You may be told to go home or removed from where you are and returned home
- You could have to pay a fixed penalty notice of £60. This will rise to £120 for the second breach
- Or you could have criminal proceedings brought against you, and if found guilty, you will have to pay a fine
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