Customers of large retailers in Wales were greeted on Saturday with rows upon rows of shelves covered with plastic sheets or crisscrossed with tape. The businesses didn’t have much choice in the matter – they had to comply with new government guidelines meant to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Wales went into a 17-day “firebreak shutdown” on Friday evening, during which non-essential businesses will remain closed. And if a small shop cannot sell clothes, apparently neither can a giant retailer. That is because the government has to “maintain a level playing field” and not allow people “browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods”, as First Minister Mark Drakeford put it. So, if you planned to buy warm clothes for your baby ahead of sub-zero-temperature weather, tough luck – order something online.

Naturally, many were not amused, and pounced on Drakeford and the Welsh Labour Party for coming up with the new rules. During Britain’s first national lockdown this spring, most small businesses were shuttered too, but supermarkets were allowed to sell their regular stock as usual.

Others responded with somewhat morbid humor, ridiculing the new measures or suggesting how they could be circumvented.

The ban was announced without a clarification of what goods were considered non-essential, leaving large retailers to guess. Businesses allowed to remain open include bicycle shops and livestock auctions, so there was plenty of room for interpretation, and large corporations naturally took the conservative approach, much to the chagrin of their customers.

Books are one item many consider essential in their lives and would like to see made available during the next two weeks. There have also been complaints about the ban covering clothing, cleaning products, and, of course, fireworks for Guy Fawkes’ Night, which will take place in the second week of the lockdown.

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