Covid: Supermarket limits lifted as lockdown in Wales eases

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image captionNon-essential aisles had previously been closed off or covered

Supermarkets can sell non-essential items and garden centres can open in Wales from Monday in a further slight easing of Covid lockdown rules.

Shops that have already been open, but had non-essential aisles cordoned off, can now sell anything, but shops that only sell non-essential items will remain closed until 12 April.

Garden centres will open their doors to customers for the first time since lockdown began in December.

Shops must have strict Covid protocols.

They are the latest restrictions to be lifted as Wales' coronavirus case rate has fallen below 50 per 100,000 people and the national Covid positivity rate is below 5% - both under the lockdown threshold.

All primary and some secondary school children have returned to the classroom while four people from two different households can now meet outdoors, including in gardens, as the stay-at-home rule was relaxed to a stay local one.

image captionWales' dates for easing Covid lockdown restrictions in the retail sector

First Minister Mark Drakeford and the Welsh government have also said more industries could be reopened or considered for reopening if Covid cases rates and test positivity rates remained low.

What restrictions could be lifted?

From 27 March, if case rates remain low:

  • Libraries and self-contained accommodation could reopen, but you can only holiday with people from your own household
  • Organised children's activities could restart
  • Stay local restrictions could be lifted

From 12 April, if case rates remain low:

  • All shops and remaining close-contact services could resume

On 22 April

image copyrightFron Goch Garden Centre
image captionStaff from the Fron Goch Garden Centre are looking forward to welcoming customers back

'What shops are open in Wales'

After hairdressers reopened for appointments last week, the reopening of non-essential aisles in supermarkets and garden centres welcoming customers is Wales' latest step towards reopening after being shut for three months.

Justin Williams is looking forward to opening Fron Goch Garden Centre near Caernarfon and believes services like his can help people's wellbeing.

"Gardening is important for mental health," he said.

"It's important to have an outside or inside space for growing plants or vegetables. It's something to do with the kids but also something for people of any age to get involved with. It also encourages people to stay home and be safe."

Garden centre bosses across Wales have been frustrated being shut while centres in England have remained open.

image copyrightFron Goch Garden Centre
image captionPlans are being put in place as parts of society begin to reopen

"We were frustrated this hadn't been recognised in Wales like in England but are happy that's changing now," Mr Williams added.

"There's been a lot of interest in us opening. People have been quite lonely without much support, it will be good to get people out and see guests in the garden."

What about non-essential retail?

Many non-essential retailers thought they would be allowed to open when hairdressers did on 15 March, but were "frustrated and disappointed" they could not open until English non-essential retailers did on 12 April.

Welsh ministers said the move to allow supermarkets to start selling non-essential items again while other shops remain shut was seen as "the least risky" Covid rules relaxation as supermarkets were already open.

The Welsh Retail Consortium previously said the industry was losing £100m in revenue every week while non-essential shops such as clothes outlets and bookshops were shut.

Chepstow Bookshop in Monmouthshire will not be able to open next week while the supermarket and high street newsagents nearby will be allowed to sell non-essentials items such as books.

"I can understand why the Welsh government has done it," said Matt Taylor, who has owned the 40-year-old book store for 15 years.

image copyrightMatt Taylor
image captionIn pre-Covid times, Chepstow Bookshop had celebrity book signings including fitness guru Joe Wicks

"It's great we've been on a level playing field for so long, although there are a few frustrations."

Mr Taylor's shop, which has been shut for six of the past 12 months, offers click and collect and home delivery but he estimates trade is "two-thirds" of what it was the previous year while "working twice as hard".

"The thing people seem to miss the most about coming into independent shops like ours is customers not knowing what they want, it's that browsing experience. And in this pandemic, books have given people a refuge or an escape from it all."

Monmouthshire has the third-lowest Covid case rate of Wales' 22 local authorities - behind Ceredigion and Bridgend - and Leeann Davies, who owns Village Treats in Magor, was "gutted" her sweet shop didn't open at the same time as hairdressers.

"It seems like along with the pubs and restaurants, we're the only ones not open," she said.

"Some of these supermarkets are getting record profits as they've no competition whereas even when we're open, we don't have the amount of customers they do - and we have strict Covid procedures.

"But I understand we're non-essential and you can't differentiate between my little shop and a big store in a city centre."

image copyrightLeeann Davies
image captionLeeann Davies has run her sweet shop Village Treats in her local village for almost six years

Mr Davies said her her business would not have survived the coronavirus crisis without government support - but does have hope for the future.

"After the first lockdown and, as so many people are working from home, we were the busiest we'd ever been," she said.

"Communities have really got behind supporting local businesses and if more people continue to work from home after the pandemic, maybe local shops like ours may have a really encouraging futures."

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