Retailers urge Welsh government not to dictate what people can buy in 'fire-break' lockdown

LONDON (Reuters) - Retailers in Wales have written urgently to First Minister Mark Drakeford expressing alarm over new regulations that restrict the sale of “non essential” products in essential shops during the country’s two-week COVID-19 lockdown.

Wales’ “fire-break” begins on Friday at 1700 GMT and ends on Nov. 9. Everybody but essential workers will have to work from home. All non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality and tourist businesses will have to close.

Retailers that can stay open, such as supermarkets, were told on Thursday that the regulations require them to only sell what the Welsh government deems to be “essential” product lines, partly to protect smaller businesses that do have to close being put at an unfair advantage.

Supermarket chains Tesco TSCO.L, Sainsbury's SBRY.L, Asda WMT.N and Morrisons MRW.L, which are all big sellers of clothing, immediately scrambled to adapt their stores to focus on food.

However, retailers are perplexed because no definition of an essential product has been forthcoming from government.

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In a letter to Drakeford, the Labour leader of the devolved government which has responsibility for health and sometimes finds itself at odds with the Conservative government in London, the Welsh Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores called for a rethink of the plan.

The trade bodies also requested an urgent meeting.

“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,” said Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium.

James Lowman, Chief Executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said the regulations were badly thought out.

“Retailers must not be forced to stop making products available to customers just because ministers don’t think they’re essential,” he said.

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Hugh Lawson