The Welsh government is facing growing calls to reverse a ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items during the 17-day lockdown in the nation, with a senior police figure saying it benefits only Amazon.
More than 20,000 people had signed a petition by Saturday afternoon calling for a U-turn on the restriction that the first minister, Mark Drakeford, has said was a “matter of fairness” as non-essential retailers have to close during the period, which began at 6pm on Friday.
However, North Wales police and crime commissioner Arfon Jones said the move would only enrich online internet giants at the expense of high street retailers – concerns echoed by the Welsh Conservatives.
“Personally I think the Welsh government decision to ban the sale of non-essential goods in shops that also sell essential goods is wrong and the only people that will benefit will be online sellers like Amazon,” he tweeted. “Bad move on this occasion by Mark Drakeford.”
Guidance published by the Welsh government says certain sections of supermarkets must be “cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public”, and it defended the ban on Saturday. These include areas selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homewares.
“Supermarkets can keep selling items you can find in other essential shops – such as stationery/greeting cards,” it tweeted.
“The purpose of selling essential items only during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops and to be fair to retailers who have to close. This is not for the sake of being difficult – we need to do everything we can to minimise the time we spend outside our homes. This will help save lives and protect the NHS.”
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 books blocked off, with plastic sheeting placed over items to prevent shoppers from accessing them.
A video posted on social media appeared to show a man ripping down plastic sheeting that was covering clothing aisles in a supermarket.
“We do not agree that this is a prudent or rational measure, and will create more harm than good,” the petition states. “We do not agree for example that parents should be barred from buying clothes for their children during lockdown while out shopping.
“This is disproportionate and cruel, and we ask that the decision be reversed immediately.”
Drakeford said on Friday that it was “not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods”.
On Saturday, Andrew Davies, the Welsh Conservatives’ shadow health minister, called for the ban to be “dropped immediately” and has written to the presiding officer of the Welsh parliament calling for members to be recalled to discuss the ban.
“I have never witnessed such a fierce backlash against a decision from the Welsh Labour government,” he said. “This ludicrous ban has caused real anger across Wales and it’s not fair on those staff working in our supermarkets, and the general Welsh public who are already at their wit’s end with a difficult fortnight looming.
“The Wales-wide lockdown is disproportionate, unnecessary and biting our economy hard. I’d rather see people being able to buy items in shops in their communities that provide employment to local people than see millions spent at online internet giants.”
Under lockdown rules, people can only leave their home for limited reasons, such as to buy food and medicine, provide care or take exercise, and must work from home where possible.