Welsh government forced to intervene after Tesco blocks period products from sale

Published: 26 October 2020

Post Desk : The Welsh health minister has said he was “saddened” after a woman was incorrectly told she could not buy sanitary products at a Tesco store due to the firebreak lockdown.

In a coronavirus update on Monday, Vaughan Gething said that was “simply wrong”. Tesco has since apologised, moving quickly to rectify its initial position.

The Welsh government is due to meet with retailers on Monday afternoon to review the controversial ban on selling non-essential items during a two-week “firebreak”.

In a Twitter exchange, a customer asked the supermarket chain for help after she was told she couldn’t buy sanitary towels. In a now-deleted tweet, a reply from Tesco’s official account said: “We have been told by the Welsh government not to sell these items for the duration of the firebreak lockdown.”

Another customer said she had the same problem and was left “raging” and “in tears” when she couldn’t buy the products.

In the briefing, Mr Gething said: “I was very saddened to see this particular exchange on social media this morning from a supermarket telling a woman she could not buy period products. This is simply wrong.

“It’s an incorrect reading of the regulations and the guidance. I am very sorry that this woman was given this information.”

He said that supermarkets in the country can sell non-essential items during the firebreak lockdown in “exceptional circumstances”.

The incident also forced the Welsh government to intervene.

A tweet from the government’s official account said: “This is wrong – period products are essential.”

There has been widespread criticism over the guidance that says certain sections of supermarkets must be “cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public”.

The strict measures are designed to ensure people have as little contact with those outside their household as possible while the two-week lockdown, which started on Friday 23 October, is in place.

It’s also been argued it would be unfair if independent retailers were forced to close but supermarkets continued selling similar items.

Almost 43,000 people have signed a petition calling on politicians to reverse the ban, which it described as “disproportionate and cruel”.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the review would make sure “common sense is applied” to the rules governing the 17-day coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Drakeford said: “We’ll be reviewing how the weekend has gone with the supermarkets and making sure that common sense is applied.

“Supermarkets can sell anything that can be sold in any other type of shop that isn’t required to close. In the meantime, please only leave home if you need to.”

Affected items include electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homeware.

Tesco has now apologised following the tweets which circulated on social media, adding that the issue was localised to one store and was the result of a police investigation.

“Sanitary products are essential items and are available to customers in all of our stores in Wales. Due to a break-in, this area was closed temporarily in one store for a police investigation but is now open again.

“The reply to this customer, which implied these products were non-essential, was sent by mistake and we’re very sorry for any confusion caused,” a spokesperson said.

The lockdown, which ends on 9 November, bans people from leaving their homes except for reasons such as buying food and medicine, providing care or taking exercise.

It also means people should work from home where possible.

Leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses are closed, as are libraries, community centres and recycling centres.

Places of worship are only allowed to open for funerals or weddings.