Chaos in Wales as 'firebreak' lockdown sees sanitary towels accidentally classed non-essential

Hayley Dixon
·3-min read
Tesco later clarified that the aisle was cordoned off whilst police investigated a break in
Tesco later clarified that the aisle was cordoned off whilst police investigated a break in

The firebreak lockdown in Wales descended into chaos as a ban on the sale of non-essential items led to a Tesco customer being told she could not purchase sanitary towels.

The Welsh Government was forced to intervene on social media after a Cardiff shopper was told that the sanitary products aisle in her local Tesco had been cordoned off because of the lockdown.

Tesco quickly apologised, saying that the real reason for the barriers on the aisle was a break-in at the store, but the confusion has led to calls for the “barmy” ban on the sale of non-essential items to be reversed.

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 and it has led to supermarket aisles being closed off or items being wrapped in plastic to stop shoppers browsing.

Nichola Smith, 41, was surprised to find that the aisle selling sanitary products was among those cordoned off when she went to her local Tesco at 6am on Monday morning to get pads for her daughter Katie.  

The 17-year-old took to social media to question the decision, telling Tesco “it doesn’t make sense” that she can buy alcohol but not the pads which are “essential to women”.

In response, a Tesco employee said that they "understand how frustrating" changes are but "we have been told by the Welsh Government not to sell these items for the duration of the firebreak lockdown". 

Shelves of books covered in plastic sheeting in a Tesco in Penarth, Wales - Getty Images
Shelves of books covered in plastic sheeting in a Tesco in Penarth, Wales - Getty Images

 Within an hour the Welsh Government intervened to confirm publicly that “this is wrong”, telling Ms Smith: “We're very sorry you and your daughter have had to experience this, this shouldn't have happened.”

The supermarket deleted the tweet and also apologised to the women, saying that “clearly sanitary products are an essential purchase”. They said that the original tweet was a “mistake”.

“I was really upset and angry,” Ms Smith told the Telegraph. “It is not the kind of thing that you want to have to ask for and some women are quite insecure about buying them.”

“The rules are totally confusing. People have been saying that you can’t buy birthday cards, but in the store this morning you could. Face masks had been covered up before, but this morning they were open.

“We really don’t know what is going on and the lockdown is very frustrating.

“Obviously the rules are there for our safety and we will abide by them, but this morning has just made me confused and angry.  There should have been a lot more planning gone into this.”

In a press conference designed to “clear up some confusion” over the new rules, Vaughan Gething, the health minister, said that he was “very saddened” to have seen the exchange on social media.

He said that Ministers were meeting retailers “to review the regulations and guidance to make sure that it is being applied fairly consistently”.

But it was suggested he risked further confusion when he said that stores that were open had discretion to sell products to those in “genuine need”.

Welsh Conservative health spokesman Andrew Davies said the confusion was the result of a "barmy ban" by the Welsh Labour Government which "must be dropped today".

"This ludicrous policy has caused real anger and it's not fair on staff working in our supermarkets and the general Welsh public who are now at their wits' end with Labour ministers," he said.

"The Welsh Labour Government has rushed out a policy that was not even understood by the country's largest supermarket and that's the fault of the First Minister and his colleagues."

A petition calling for a reversal of the “cruel” ban has received 65,000 signatures, making it the largest ever submitted to the Senedd