The Welsh Government will “continue to learn lessons” about how it communicates its lockdown rules following confusion over a ban on selling non-essential items, Wales’ health minister has said.
Vaughan Gething said ministers would ensure retailers understand what can and cannot be sold during the 17-day firebreak, but also discuss how shoppers with “exceptional circumstances” can purchase non-essential items.
It came after Tesco was forced to apologise for wrongly suggesting sanitary products were “non-essential” and so could not be sold due to the new measures in place in Wales.
Replying to a customer who complained she had been told she could not buy sanitary pads at a store in the St Mellons area of Cardiff, Tesco said on Twitter: “We have been told by the Welsh Government not to sell these items for the duration of the firebreak lockdown.”
The supermarket later said the tweet was sent “by mistake” and said the relevant aisles had been closed off after a break-in at the store.
On Monday, Mr Gething said the regulations and guidance would be reviewed later that afternoon to make sure they were being applied “fairly and consistently”.
He told the Welsh Government’s coronavirus press briefing: “If there are anomalies, we will look at whether the guidance needs to be revised or strengthened, to make it clear that supermarkets have some discretion to sell to people who are in genuine need.”
Mr Gething said he recognised the ban on selling non-essential items was “difficult” and “hard for people to accept”.
And he admitted the Welsh Government would “continue to learn lessons about how we do our job effectively in communicating with stakeholders, the public, but not losing sight of the fact that this is a public health emergency”.
Discussions with supermarkets would focus on how shoppers with “exceptional circumstances” can purchase non-essential items during the firebreak lockdown, he said, before suggesting shoppers could “discreetly” make their needs known to staff.
Mr Gething said he was “very saddened” to hear of the exchange involving Tesco on Twitter.
“It’s an incorrect reading of the regulations and the guidance. I am very sorry that this woman was given this information,” he said.
“Supermarkets are open and trading as are many other shops and are able to sell the wide range of everyday items that we all need.”
Following Tesco’s original tweet, the Welsh Government tweeted: “This is wrong – period products are essential.
“Supermarkets can still sell items that can be sold in pharmacies.
“Only selling essential items during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops. It should not stop you accessing items that you need.”
South Wales Police said officers were investigating a burglary at the supermarket in which £20,000 of beauty products, including make-up, electric toothbrushes and razors, were stolen between 2.30am and 4.30am on Monday.
“Of course sanitary products are essential items and are available to customers in all of our stores, including those in Wales,” a Tesco spokesman said.
“Due to a break-in, this area was closed temporarily in one store for a police investigation, but is now open again.
“The reply to this customer, which implied these products were non-essential, was sent by mistake and we’re very sorry for any confusion caused.”
The new restrictions in Wales, which began at 6pm on Friday and will end on November 9, mean non-essential retail including clothes shops, furniture stores and car dealerships must close.
Shops selling multiple types of product can stay open but can only sell essential items – which according to the Welsh Government’s website also includes those “which would normally be sold in pharmacies and chemists”.
Welsh Conservative health spokesman Andrew RT Davies said the confusion was the result of a “barmy ban” by the Welsh Labour Government which should be stopped.
At Monday’s press conference, Mr Gething said the previous week was “one of the deadliest” in the country since the start of the pandemic, with more than 60 people dying with Covid-19.
There are 616 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Welsh hospitals, the highest figure since May 24 and up 26% on last Sunday, he said, while 56 people are in critical care in Wales, an increase of 14%.
“This is not an easy time for any of us in Wales,” Mr Gething said.
“For the next two weeks, we must all live with a new and very tough set of regulations.”
When asked about whether a second firebreak was likely next year, Mr Gething said: “I can’t give you a guarantee about the position that we’ll see at Christmas.
“So I certainly can’t forecast or get into a hypothetical answer about the new year.”