United Kingdom

Coronavirus Wales: Supermarkets to sell 'essential goods' only

Welsh 'fire break' lockdown rules 

Supermarkets can sell only 'essential items'

Pubs and restaurants closed

Only leave the house to shop for food, medicine or take exercise

Household mixing banned indoors and outdoors

Most secondary school children will stay at home once half term ends on October 30

Work from home wherever possible 

Wear face masks indoors and on public transport 

Welsh supermarkets have been ordered to only sell 'essential goods' to customers during the country's 17-day lockdown.

First Minister Mark Drakeford will tell stores they are unable to sell items such as clothes to shoppers, and to prioritise other products deemed to be more important.

It means a likely return to the scenes witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic when there were rows over the contents of people's shopping trollies. 

Many retailers will be forced to shut during the 'firebreak' lockdown, when it begins on Friday at 6pm, but food shops, off-licences and pharmacies can stay open.

Despite there being just hours before it comes into effect, the Welsh Government was unable to provide clarity tonight on what is defined as 'essential' nor how enforcement of the rules would look. 

Police forces in the country have not released information on how it will work either, though a government spokesman insisted more details would be revealed on Friday morning.

The move has sparked anger among opposition figures, with Welsh Conservative Andrew RT Davies tweeting: 'The power is going to their heads'. 

The lockdown is significantly more severe than England's three-tier system, with Wales demanding people stay at home except for limited purposes such as exercise, and ordering the complete closure of pubs, restaurants, hotels and non-essential shops.

A ban on travel to Wales from hotspot areas in England has been in force this week, despite the Police Federation describing it as 'unenforceable'.

By contrast, even in England's strictest Tier Three areas, some social meetings are allowed outdoors and pubs can stay open providing they offer customers a 'substantial meal'. 

As a result, revellers took to the streets of Cardiff city centre this evening to enjoy one last night out on the town before the new restrictions come into force.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also wants to take a harsher approach than the PM, with more levels of curbs to tackle the pandemic, though she played down claims from a top adviser that families should prepare to see loved ones over Zoom at Christmas due to the ongoing crisis. 

Mr Drakeford said it will be 'made clear' to supermarkets that only certain parts of their business will be allowed to open in order to sell essentials.

Retailers have been given mere hours to put together plans for the lockdown, which will run until November 9, as shopkeepers argue the rules do not make sense as customers will already be in their stores to buy the 'essential' items. 

In other Covid news:

First Minister Mark Drakeford said it will be 'made clear' to supermarkets that only certain parts of their business will be allowed to open in order to sell essentials

A graph shows how the number of coronavirus cases has risen in Wales since the end of August but there have been fewer in recent days

A graph shows how the number of coronavirus hospitalisations is on the rise in Wales over the last few days, but has not sky-rocketed

A graph shows how the number of coronavirus deaths has risen in Wales since the end of August but there have been fewer in recent days

Revellers took to the streets of Cardiff tonight to enjoy one more night on the town before the new lockdown comes in tomorrow

Pubs and bars will close tomorrow as a result of the Welsh government's 'firebreak' lockdown, so many made sure they were out to enjoy one last night out

Friends sat down for a drink together in Cardiff city centre before the new firebreak lockdown comes into force tomorrow

A group of girls strike a pose in Cardiff as they look to make the most of one last night on the town before the new lockdown

Pubs and restaurants in Cardiff were busy tonight before they are ordered to shut down for Wales' new 17-day lockdown

A group of girls pose for a selfie on a night out in Cardiff before Wales goes into a 17-day lockdown from 6pm on Friday

Crowds of people took to the streets in the Welsh capital, just hours before pubs, restaurants and non essential businesses are being ordered to close

With a host of new restrictions and pub closures on the horizon, these youngsters were keen to take advantage of one last night on the town in Cardiff

Drinkers packed into pubs on what is their last night out in the Welsh capital for more than two weeks, due to new rules

Mr Drakeford made the announcement at a Senedd committee in response to a question from Conservative MS Russell George who said it was 'unfair' to force independent clothing and hardware retailers to close while similar goods were on sale in major supermarkets.

'In the first set of restrictions people were reasonably understanding of the fact that supermarkets didn't close all the things that they may have needed to,' Mr Drakeford said.

'I don't think that people will be as understanding this time and we will be making it clear to supermarkets that they are only able to open those parts of their business that provide essential goods to people and that will not include some of the things that Russell George mentioned which other people are prevented from selling.

'So, we will make sure there is a more level playing field in those next two weeks.'

From Friday all leisure and non-essential retail will be closed and this includes clothes shops, furniture shops and car dealerships. A complete list is yet to be published.

Shops allowed to remain open include supermarkets and other food retailers, pharmacies, banks and post offices.

Under the law, firms conducting a business that provides a mixed set of services will be allowed to open if they cease conducting the service that must close.

Mr George said: 'It is deeply concerning that, given we are days away from the lockdown, we are still awaiting the publication of a full list of the types of businesses required to close, as well as guidance on business closures.

'At a time of considerable uncertainty, it is totally unacceptable - whether intentionally or not - to create even more concern and anxiety, which is, sadly, what this Government is succeeding at.

'The people and businesses of Wales deserve better than being left in the dark. For the sake of people's jobs and livelihoods, I urge the Welsh Labour-led Government to heed our calls and publish a list, without delay.'

Andrew RT Davies, the Conservative shadow health minister, tweeted: 'The power is going to their heads.'

He later added: 'Is a flagon of Strongbow deemed essential? What about some much-needed underpants if you're caught short?

'I do hope there is some published guidance on what the Labour commissars deem as essential.'

Sue Davies, from consumer group Which?, said the announcement would cause 'confusion', particularly among the vulnerable.

'Our own research showed that almost half of those who described themselves as situationally vulnerable in Wales during the previous lockdown had difficulty accessing the food and groceries they needed,' she said.

'The Welsh Government must act now to clarify the situation around what retailers can and cannot sell, and must urgently identify those most in need to give them the support to ensure that no-one who is at risk struggles to access the food and other basics they need.'

The First Minister said he would keep the principality closed down for as short a time as possible, but insisted it was necessary to act as a breaker to a 'rising tide' of cases - despite Wales having a lower rate of infections than England.

The decision to impose a 'short and deep' lockdown until November 9, which echoes national demands made by Sir Keir Starmer and wipes out Halloween and Bonfire Night, sparked a furious political backlash.

Data showed England had a coronavirus infection rate of 166 per 100,000 people in the week of October 14 while Wales had a rate of 163 per 100,000. 

Welsh Tories said it was dooming the country to an endless cycle of two-week lockdowns while Conservative MPs in Westminster said it was a 'blunt instrument' and 'closing down the whole of Wales is disproportionate to the level of risk in some parts of the country'. 

Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, 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.' 

And James Lowman, chief of the Association of Convenience Stores added: 'Retailers must not be forced to stop making products available to customers just because ministers don't think they're essential.' 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: 'The fire-break is designed to reduce all physical contact between households to an absolute minimum in order to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.

'We have a small window in which to take this action and there are no easy choices. 

'However, we fully recognise the impact the fire-break will have on businesses and are making a further £300 million available to support them through this difficult period.' 

Supermarkets drafted in police (pictured outside a Lidl) to stamp out ransacking of high-demand items earlier in the pandemic

Police at a Tesco supermarket earlier in the pandemic as tensions boiled over with shoppers desperate to pick up essential goods

At the start of the pandemic, hordes of shoppers descended on supermarkets at the crack of dawn in a desperate bid to stock up after weeks of panic-buying cleared food aisles across the country.

Pleas from the government and retailers to consider other people and steer clear of panic-buying had been largely ignored, with those who did exercise restraint forced to flock to stores well ahead of opening times to make sure they didn't leave empty-handed. 

Individual stores took action to curb the number of products people could buy, while police and private security were even drafted in to stamp out ransacking of high-demand items such as toilet roll. 

Mr Drakeford said this week: 'It is a very difficult time indeed and it's why, in the end, we decided to go for the shortest possible period of a firebreak - a two-week period.

'But if you're doing it short, you've got to do it deep. There's a trade-off there.

'We could have gone for a longer period with slightly fewer restrictions but, in the end, the advice to us - partly because of the impact on people's mental health - was that if you could keep this period of time as short as you could, that would help to mitigate that impact.' 

Meanwhile, it emerged today that more than 1,000 Cardiff University students and three staff have reported testing positive for coronavirus with the NHS since the start of October and more than 2,000 are currently self isolating.

University figures show 730 students and three staff have reported failing an NHS test and the university's own in-house asymptomatic test service has identified a further 292 cases among staff and students - bringing the total number of cases who have tested positive to 1,025.

The single daily total for positive tests was 164 on October 18 and 2,346 students were self isolating on that date. Of those self isolating, 235 reported doing so because they had symptoms. 

It comes as the UK today announced another 21,242 positive coronavirus tests and the deaths of another 189 people, while Sir Patrick Vallance claimed as many as 90,000 could be catching the virus every day. 

The chief scientific adviser said that numbers are 'still heading in the wrong direction' but also admitted Britain's outbreak appears to be slowing down.  

Official data this afternoon shows that cases are 12 per cent higher than the 18,980 on Thursday last week – the smallest seven-day increase of any day of any day this week – while deaths are up 37 per cent from 138.

Speaking in a TV briefing alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick showed slides that estimated there are somewhere between 22,000 and 90,000 new infections every day in England. 

The startling upper estimate comes from a statement prepared by SAGE sub-group SPI-M, which provides regular virus modelling for Sir Patrick and has members known to be in favour of a national circuit breaker lockdown.

Office for National Statistics estimates are generally considered to be the most reliable measure, because they're based directly on mass random swab testing of the English population, but they are a fortnight out of date.

Last Friday they estimated there were 27,800 new infections per day in the first week of October, including people who never get tested. A new estimate will be published tomorrow and Sir Patrick said he expects the figure to be significantly higher. 

Sir Patrick also said it appears to now be taking between 14 and 18 days for cases in the country to double, slower than the estimated seven days in mid-September. 

In other coronavirus news today:

Commenting on the weekly ONS data which estimates how many people currently have Covid-19 – last week putting the number at between 312,000 and 362,000 – Sir Patrick said: 'We're expecting the new numbers tomorrow and this will be higher, I'm sure, so we continue to see an increase in the total number of people with the virus.'

Then, explaining the new estimate of daily cases provided by SPI-M, he added: 'The modelling consensus suggests that between 53 and 90,000 new infections per day may be occurring. 

'Obviously with that number of infections you expect to see an increase in hospitalisations as well. So the number of infections overall across the country continues to increase.' 

Sir Patrick Vallance said that numbers are 'still heading in the wrong direction' but also admitted Britain's outbreak appears to be slowing down

Pointing out that numbers of people being admitted to hospitals each day have risen significantly in the last month, he reminded people that admissions will continue to rise as a result of cases that have already happened because of the two-week delay between catching the virus and becoming seriously ill.

Despite the chief scientific adviser's now-regular warnings that the outbreak is worrying and will kill many more people, Sir Patrick offered a glimmer of optimism and admitted there are signs of a slowdown.

The fact that the R rate remains above one – SAGE estimates it to be between 1.3 and 1.5 – means that 'the epidemic is still growing,' he said.

'As long as R is above one the epidemic continues to grow and it will continue to grow at a reasonable rate – it's doubling, perhaps, every 14 to 18 days – unless the R comes below one. 

'But I do want to say, there are some areas where we're beginning to see real effects of what's happening. There are some indications [that] amongst young people the rates are coming down or flattening off a bit due to the huge efforts that people have made to try to adhere to these changes in behaviours that we need to have in order to get this down.

'And in some areas of the country we can begin to see a little bit of flattening, possibly. So the measures are having an effect but we're going to need to do more if the aim is to get R below one and to shrink this epidemic.' 

'Santa is a key worker': Nicola Sturgeon forced to make bizarre TV address to Scottish children after her top medical advisor says hopes of large family Christmas gathering are a 'fiction' amid backlash at her FIVE TIER lockdown 

Nicola Sturgeon was forced to make a bizarre promise to Scottish children that Santa would still deliver their Christmas presents - after her top medical advisor said hopes of a traditional festive gathering were a 'fiction'. 

The First Minister joked that her national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch would be portrayed as the Grinch on newspaper front pages after he said families should prepare to see loved ones over Zoom because of coronavirus.

She attempted to play down the significance of his remarks at her daily press conference today as she came under increasing fire over a five-tier lockdown system set to be even tougher than Boris Johnson's in England. 

The First Minister has been hit with a wave of anger after it emerged she wants to take a harsher approach than the PM, with more levels of curbs to tackle the pandemic.

Ms Sturgeon was faced by a barrage of questions as she faced the media, after Prof Leitch told BBC Scotland this morning that while there may be some 'normality' over Christmas, 'we're not going to have large family groupings with multiple families around, that is fiction for this year'.

After a question about Santas having to use Zoom in their grottos across the country, she turned to the camera and said: 'On Santa, if there are any kids watching: Santa will not be prevented from delivering your presents on Christmas Eve, Santa is a key worker and he has got lots of magic powers that make him safe to do that. 

'If he is having to do Grotto appearances by Zoom, that is to keep you safe, it is not because he is at any risk. Santa will be delivering presents across the world as normal.' 

The First Minister joked that her national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch would be portrayed as the Grinch on newspaper front pages after he said families should prepare to see loved ones over Zoom because of coronavirus

The First Minister has been hit with a wave of anger after it emerged she wants to take a harsher approach than the PM, with more levels of curbs to tackle the pandemic

Prof Leitch told BBC Scotland this morning that while there may be some 'normality' over Christmas, 'we're not going to have large family groupings with multiple families around, that is fiction for this year'

Prof Leitch told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: 'Christmas is not going to be normal, there is absolutely no question about that.

'We're not going to have large family groupings with multiple families around, that is fiction for this year.

'I am hopeful, if we can get the numbers down to a certain level, we may be able to get some form of normality.

'People should get their digital Christmas ready.'

Later, Ms Sturgeon said he was simply trying to he honest with people about the hard decisions that faced.

The First Minister (pictured campaigning last December) said: 'Since I'm spending so much time responding to Jason's (Leitch) comments today, I should make him dress up as the Grinch for Halloween and do a briefing to cheer everybody up'

'What he is trying to do is be frank with people about the reality we live in and not prematurely rule things out but equally not try to give people false assurances,' she said. 

'I want us to be able to celebrate Christmas as normally as it is possible to do within the context of a global pandemic. And my message to people is that the more we all stick with these really difficult restrictions right now, the more chance there will be of us doing that.'

Details of the new tier system are due to be spelled out tomorrow, with the highest bracket potentially condemning large areas to a March-style squeeze. It will raise concerns that England could end up in a similar position, as has often happened during the previous phases of the crisis.

But pubs, restaurants and retailers are already voicing alarm they face a catastrophic winter, with dire predictions that two-thirds of hospitality firms could close.

The licensed trade said businesses had been kept 'completely in the dark' about the fresh wave of regulations, and warned the sector was 'staring into the abyss', with thousands of jobs at risk. 

Writing in today's Daily Mail, Stephen Montgormery, from the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: 'Yesterday the Scottish Government effectively called last orders on our country's hospitality industry.

Hundreds of viable businesses now face closure, affecting the livelihoods of thousands of people.

Time and time again we have called on the Government to work with us on a solution. Time and time again we have faced a closed door.

The next few days will be critical. The hospitality sector is on a financial precipice as the long, difficult winter stretches ahead.'   

Q&A on Scotland's coronavirus lockdown

I live in the Central Belt, which is under the strongest restrictions in Scotland at present. Will we be placed into the highest tier when the new system comes in?

It is expected that no areas will initially be placed into the top, fifth tier under current proposals. Instead, areas under the toughest restrictions at present will likely be placed in the fourth tier when the system comes into force on November 2. This could involve a continuation of current restrictions, such as the closure of licensed premises.

Our children missed a lot of school towards the end of the last academic year because of the Covid-19 lockdown. Could schools close again?

Nicola Sturgeon has said her 'default' position is to keep schools open through any future lockdown and has highlighted other countries which kept the education system going, even during full lockdown. Under the new tier system, schools should not automatically close, even if the local area enters the top alert level. It's thought a 'judgment' will be made on a case-by-case basis over whether pupils would be sent home.

Are there any tiers that would see life go back to normal?

Yes, under tier zero, it is expected that life would resemble pre-pandemic normality.

Will the tiers be implemented at health board or local authority level?

It is thought restrictions will be set by council area, rather than health board, as is the case with current restrictions.

What will be the rules for areas in the highest tier?

Those living in an area placed under top tier restrictions would experience limitations almost as severe as the full lockdown imposed across the UK in March, when people were told to 'stay at home' and there were strict limits on travel.

What will the three middle tiers involve?

These are said to 'broadly mirror' the English system. The 'rule of six' is expected to apply in the second tier, meaning people can only socialise indoors or outdoors in groups of six adults from a maximum of two households. The rule will apply to pubs and restaurants, where customers will also be required to wear face coverings indoors when they are not eating and drinking. The next tier will reportedly see Scots prohibited from socialising in any indoor setting with people from outside their household or extended household. The rule of six continues to apply for socialising outdoors.

In the fourth tier, it is expected that people will be prohibited from socialising indoors or outdoors with anybody they do not live with, or with whom they have not formed an extended household.

Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, warned: 'Hundreds of businesses are facing permanent closure and with that thousands of jobs will be lost – the damage could be irreparable.

'We estimate that two-thirds of hospitality businesses could be mothballed or go under in the coming months. Over 50 per cent of jobs in the pub and bar sector could also be lost.' 

The First Minister also refused to rule out school closures in badly affected areas, saying 'blended learning' could be reintroduced under extreme circumstances.

Don Lawson, owner of the Inverness bar Johnny Foxes, told the Press and Journal that the Government should ban alcohol sales in supermarkets and off-licences to save pubs.

He said: 'Pubs are facing an unprecedented crisis and the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people are in jeopardy.

'Many of our beloved pubs are at real risk, with significantly reduced trade and increased costs as a result of questionable restrictions.

'I feel the answer to the hospitality conundrum is as follows, that the Scottish Government bans all alcohol sales in supermarkets and off-licenses, including off-sales in pubs and restaurants.

'Allow the sale of alcohol to be restricted to pubs and restaurants – this will boost local economies and safeguard thousands of jobs.'

Reacting to the proposal, Stuart McPhee, the director of Siberia Aberdeen and spokesman for the Aberdeen Hospitality Group, said: 'I'm all for trialling anything. It's as radical an idea as any.

'I've certainly advocated a few ideas such as shutting down premises who are not following the rules.

'We need to be working as an industry alongside the Scottish Government to find a solution, given that we're the third-biggest employer in the country.'

It came as Scotland recorded its deadliest day since May, with 28 deaths linked to Covid-19 registered in 24 hours. 

A further 1,739 people tested positive, with 49 patients admitted to hospital. There are now 73 people in intensive care units across the country.

The new five-tier system is due to be rolled out on November 2.

Ms Sturgeon has said current restrictions on pubs and restaurants will remain in place until then.

She has already indicated that the three middle tiers will be broadly similar to the new system in England – where areas are classed as being at either 'medium', 'high' or 'very high' risk.

But there will also be a lower level in Scotland for areas with fewer cases of Covid-19, and clinical director Prof Jason Leitch indicated travel restrictions will be put in place to prevent people from higher tiers moving into these.

In areas in the lowest tier, he said people will have 'slightly more freedoms than other parts of the country'.

In contrast, Professor Leitch said areas in the highest tier would be under a 'fuller' lockdown, though schools would remain 'as open as possible'.

The new system is not expected to come into place until November 2, replacing temporary restrictions on the hospitality sector which were on Wednesday extended for another week up to that date.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme today, Professor Leitch said work is under way by advisers on what levels should be applied in different areas.

He said: 'We will give advice and then the decision makers will make those choices over the weekend and into next week.'

He explained a five-tier system is preferred in Scotland over the three levels in England because 'we think as advisers you have to have everything in your toolbox'.

He added: 'You have to have the lower end, because if you were an area of Scotland with very low prevalence… then you could perhaps have slightly more freedoms than other parts of the country.

'Then there's the middle ones… kind of what we are in just now in various parts of the country.

'But we think you need something in your toolbox that says if those aren't working in time to protect the National Health Service, to protect individuals from the disease, you have the option of a fuller, unfortunate lockdown.'

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