Last Friday, the Welsh Government (WG) imposed another COVID-19 lockdown across the whole of Wales. That, in itself, was dispiriting enough, coming at a particularly gloomy time of year when, according to the Office for National Statistics, life satisfaction levels are at their lowest since the pandemic began.
But what makes this lockdown even more draconian than the first, in the spring of this year, are the needless additional restrictions that have been imposed on those shops that are allowed to remain open, and, by extension, their customers.
Because the WG’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has decreed that you are forbidden to buy “non-essential” items when you do your weekly shop at your local supermarket (one of the few types of retail outlets allowed to continue trading).
The reason for Mr Drakeford’s decision is, he tells us, a simple issue of “fairness”. Smaller shops will be unable to sell similar items, he says, so supermarkets shouldn’t do so, either.
The consequence of Mr Drakeford’s “fairness” is that nobody will be able to buy any “non-essential” items anywhere.
What items, you may wonder, fall into the category of “non-essential”? Well, don’t look at the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020, the Byzantine statutory instrument that imposes the lockdown, because the expression “non-essential” doesn’t appear there.
Nor is there much enlightenment in the official guidance that accompanies the Regulations. There is brief mention of “electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, and products for the garden”, but not the exhaustive list one might expect in the circumstances.
The guidance even acknowledges that there may be cases of doubt as to whether a product can be sold (for example, “whether a product for the home is truly a necessity”). In such cases “shops will be expected to use their best endeavours to consider what should be available”. In other words, shopkeepers will have to guess what Mr Drakeford means.
So you need a few pairs of socks for the kids and were hoping to pick them up at Asda? Forget it. Has your microwave given up the ghost? Don’t expect to find a replacement in the middle of Lidl.
It’s chaos. But it will have its beneficiaries. And the biggest will be Amazon.
Because if you can’t buy your socks, microwave or other allegedly “non-essential” goods locally, you will, of course, go online. And you may find it such a stress-free experience that you continue shopping online, rather than locally, after the lockdown ends. And the losers will be the very small traders that Mr Drakeford avowedly wants to help.
Put simply, this is a barmy policy that should be scrapped immediately. People under the stress of another lockdown shouldn’t be expected to put up with the inability to purchase goods that are not luxuries, but items they need to live their everyday lives.
And when this pandemic is over, we want our High Streets to be full of viable shops, not choked with Amazon, Argos and John Lewis vans.