Are Northern Ireland retailers covering up non-essential items from sale?

CLAIM: Social media posts are circulating showing supermarket shelves that have been covered over or taped off to prevent customers purchasing certain items. Reference is made to this happening in Belfast and Northern Ireland.

CONCLUSION: INACCURATE. At the time of writing, Wales is the only part of the UK that has restricted the sale of non-essential items in supermarkets. There is no indication that this model of restriction will be introduced in Northern Ireland.

Where is this happening?

Under the “firebreak lockdown put in place by the Welsh government, beginning at 6pm on Friday 23 October and ending on Monday 9 November, all non-essential retail is closed. The government’s aim is “to save lives and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed” by “people staying home as much as possible”. 

Welsh stores that sell multiple types of product are required to close those parts of their premises selling products that are not on the list of essentials during the two-week lockdown. The list includes: food and drink; cleaning products; lightbulbs; batteries; toiletries and sanitary products; pharmaceuticals products; baby goods, newspapers; pet food; and vehicle maintenance products.

The guidelines specify that “those parts of a store selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, and products for the garden should be closed to the public—and these products should not be sold”. Some supermarket shelves have been emptied; others have been covered with tape, notices, or cling film to prevent items being browsed and purchased. 

Many of the photographs in the two Facebook posts reference Wales. A store sign is visible referring to “Gwin” (wine), while others include signs referring to “Welsh Government regulations” and “firebreak regulations”.

What was the rationale?

The Welsh Government explained:

“It would also not be fair to allow supermarkets to sell products that are sold by other retailers that have been required to close. As shops selling electrical goods, for example, have been required to close, supermarkets should not be able to sell the same products they sell.”

Has this happened in Northern Ireland? 

No. During the original lockdown in spring 2020, supermarkets were allowed to stay open and there was no restriction on what goods they could sell. Members of the public were asked only to make essential journeys.

The localised restrictions introduced in September to Greater Belfast, parts of Lisburn, Ballymena town, and parts of Armagh before being extended across Northern Ireland, focussed on household transmission and did not restrict sales in supermarket retailers. 

Northern Ireland government advice states that “the retail sector remains open” during the latest restrictions that came into effect on 16 October. The only restriction on supermarkets is the ban on selling alcohol after 8pm.

There are no statements from Executive ministers indicating that a Welsh-style partial restrictions on retail are being planned for Northern Ireland.

What about Scotland and England?

Under Scotland’s new five-level system of Coronavirus regulations, retail remains open in levels 0–3. “Only essential retail will be able to remain open in Level 4” according to Scottish Government guidance. However, nowhere in Scotland has yet been placed in this highest category.

England’s three tier regional restrictions do not impact supermarkets. 

Will we see this in England under their new lockdown rules?

No. Under the lockdown rules to be introduced in England on 5 November, non-essential shops must remain closed, but supermarkets can sell non-essential goods.

In conclusion, partial restrictions on what goods can be sold in supermarkets are only in place in Wales and do not extend across the UK. There is no indication that this model of restriction will be introduced in Northern Ireland.


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