The land where books are banned: GUY ADAMS visits stores in Wales to investigate bizarre new coronavirus shopping rules and discovers that magazines are ‘essential’… and so is wearing clothes (despite what one cheeky customer thought)
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.
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