Covid: Wales lockdown supermarket rules to be reviewed

A ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items during Wales’ lockdown will be reviewed after the weekend, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Pressure has mounted on the Welsh Government to reverse the decision to prohibit supermarkets from selling items such as clothes and microwaves.

A petition to the Senedd has passed 37,000 signatures, making it the second largest ever submitted in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government was ensuring “common sense is applied”.

The Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies had earlier called for the Senedd/Welsh Parliament to be recalled for an urgent debate on the matter.

Supermarkets have been told they can only sell “essential” items and must close parts of their stores which sell products such as clothes, shoes, toys and bedding during Wales’ 17-day “firebreak lockdown”.

The petition, asking that supermarkets should be allowed to sell “non-essential” items, is already one of the largest ever sent to the Senedd.

Wales’ firebreak lockdown is in place until Monday 9 November.

Jodi Merry, from Rhondda Cynon Taf, said the ban has come at an awkward time as she was planning to buy new clothes for her eight-year-old son after she gets paid next week.

“It’s just an inconvenience,” she said.

“My eight-year-old is tall for his age and getting clothes for him is hard enough as it is. I can’t just go online and order stuff. I know we can’t try clothes on in the shop but I can at least gauge whether it will fit him by holding it up to him.

“I know it’s only two weeks, and we’re a lot better off than others, but the fact of the matter is, he doesn’t have any winter pyjamas at the moment and with pay day in a few days I would have got some.

“Everything is essential when it’s something you desperately need and nobody should be controlling what you can and can’t buy in the supermarket. At the end of the day, clothing, shoes and even bedding are definitely essentials.”

The move has also led to some confusion over what supermarkets can and cannot sell.

Earlier on Saturday, the Welsh Government tweeted to say: “Supermarkets can keep selling items you can find in other essential shops – such as stationery/greeting cards.

“The purpose of selling essential items only during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops and to be fair to retailers who have to close.”

It continued: “This is not for the sake of being difficult – we need to do everything we can to minimise the time we spend outside our homes. This will help save lives and protect the NHS.”

In a statement, the Welsh Government added: “The fire-break is designed to reduce all physical contact between households to an absolute minimum in order to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.  

“We have a small window in which to take this action and there are no easy choices. However, we fully recognise the impact the fire-break will have on businesses and are making a further £300 million available to support them through this difficult period.”

In calling for the return of the Senedd/Welsh Parliament, Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies said: “People are concerned at being prevented from buying products such as books, bins, baby clothes in local shops and this is forcing them to purchase online or to make extra journeys to multiple shops searching for them.”

He added that members of the Senedd should be able to discuss the matter virtually.

Mr Davies said: “This is absolute madness by the Welsh Government, preventing people from buying the products which they want to buy.

“What we want to see is the Welsh Government scrapping this measure and that’s why I’ve actually written to the presiding officer requesting an urgent meeting of the Senedd in order to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

The presiding officer has been approached for comment.

Previous large petitions related to the proposed closure of the A&E department at Withybush Hospital in Pembrokeshire (40,045), a call to teach black history in Welsh schools (34,736) and for 2020 exam grades to be awarded via teacher assessments (28,505).

School meals: Boris Johnson facing calls to meet Marcus Rashford

Boris Johnson is facing calls to meet with footballer Marcus Rashford to discuss his free school meals campaign.

The government has ruled out extending meal vouchers for vulnerable children in England to the holidays, saying it has already increased welfare payments.

But chairman of the education select committee Robert Halfon said a meeting would help ministers create a long-term strategy to combat child food hunger.

Former Tory children’s minister Tim Loughton said he would lobby Number 10.

It comes after Manchester United striker Rashford said he “couldn’t be more proud to call myself British”, as hundreds of cafes, restaurants and some local councils pledged to help feed children facing hardship during the October half term.

Rashford’s petition on child food poverty was approaching 800,000 names on Saturday evening.

On Wednesday, Conservative MPs rejected Labour’s Opposition Day motion to extend free school meals by 322 votes to 261, with five Tory MPs rebelling.

One of those rebels, Mr Halfon, called on Mr Johnson to meet Rashford, telling the BBC: “It may be that they don’t agree with everything that Marcus Rashford is proposing, but it would give us a chance to come up with a long-term plan to combat child food hunger once and for all.”

Meanwhile, Mr Loughton, who did not support Labour’s motion, said the government had a “very proud record” of prioritising help for the poorest in society but added that more needed to be done.

“Notwithstanding this, I still think it would have been easier for the government to continue with the free school meal holiday entitlement in these unprecedented times,” he said.

“I will now lobby ministers to reverse this decision for the Christmas break.

“Voting outright against the government in this debate would have made that task less easy and also (would have) given the hypocritical tactics of the Labour Party more credibility which they didn’t deserve.”

The government extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays earlier this year.

And following Rashford’s campaign, it bowed to pressure to do the same throughout the summer holiday.

This time it has refused to do so, saying it has given councils £63m for families facing financial difficulties due to pandemic restrictions, as well as increasing welfare support by £9.3bn.

The policy puts it at odds with the other UK nations, which have all extended the policy beyond term time.

Councils that have pledged to support Rashford’s initiative now include those in Manchester, Birmingham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hillingdon, the local authority for Mr Johnson’s constituency.

Rebecca Horton, owner of the Taste Sandwich Bar in Dingle in Liverpool, said she signed up to Rashford’s campaign because she comes from a deprived area and wanted to support her community.

“I see families struggling, I see children hungry – it was an absolute no brainer for me to jump on the bandwagon, rally round and organise something,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

However, MP David Simmonds, who represents Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, said the scheme “on its own is not going to get the help to people that need it”.

Meanwhile, two Conservative MPs have said comments they made about the issue were “taken out of context” after their remarks were criticised.

Commenting on a school in Mansfield, Ben Bradley said that “one kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel”. Another Twitter user responded, saying that “£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel sounds like the way forward with this one”, to which Mr Bradley replied: “That’s what FSM [free school meal] vouchers in the summer effectively did…”

Mr Bradley said the tweet, which has since been deleted, had been “totally taken out of context”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I was merely making the point that there are kids who live in really chaotic situations, really difficult lives, where actually giving them an unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn’t helpful.”

He said the government had given money to local government which was better placed to provide targeted support, adding: “We need to wrap our arms, as a society, around those families.”

Labour called for him to apologise for the tweet, with deputy leader Angela Rayner saying: “Notwithstanding the fact that the vouchers in summer could only be used to purchase food, this stigmatisation of working class families is disgraceful and disgusting.”

Another Conservative MP, Selaine Saxby, also responded to criticism of comments she made on local businesses giving free food away.

A screenshot of a since-removed post in her name on Facebook said: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”

The MP later claimed her comments were taken “out of context” and added: “I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.”

Covid-19: Arrests at London anti-lockdown protest

Eighteen people have been arrested at a protest in central London over coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Large crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace, where police were stationed, before moving on to Trafalgar Square.

Some protesters carried placards calling for “freedom” and an end to the “tyranny” of Covid-19 restrictions.

The Metropolitan Police said the crowds had been dispersed but urged people to continue social distancing.

There was some disruption on Westminster Bridge as officers tried to break up demonstrators.

The force said three officers had suffered minor injuries.

Arrests were made for a variety of offences, including breaching coronavirus regulations, assaulting an emergency service worker and for violent disorder.

The capital was placed into tier two lockdown restrictions earlier this week.

Commander Ade Adelekan, of the Met, said he had become “increasingly concerned that those in the crowd were not maintaining social distancing or adhering to the terms of their own risk assessment”.

He added: “Organisers did not take reasonable steps to keep protesters safe which then voided their risk assessment. At this point, officers then took action to disperse crowds in the interests of public safety.

“I am grateful that the vast majority of people listened to officers and quickly left the area. Frustratingly, a small minority became obstructive, deliberately ignoring officers’ instructions and blocking Westminster Bridge.

“Although the majority of protests have concluded, our policing operation will continue into the night and I would urge Londoners to stick to the regulations, avoid gathering in large numbers and maintain social distancing.”

iPhone 12 launch causes NHS Covid-19 app confusion

Some owners of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro handsets have reported being shown an error message when trying to use the NHS Covid-19 app.

Apple’s devices – which were released on Friday – can in fact run England and Wales’ contact-tracing software.

But the issue arises if apps are transferred from an older iPhone via an iCloud Backup data transfer, which is common practice.

This can easily be addressed by making a change within the Settings menu.

Users should:

When users install the app from scratch, they are prompted to give the required permission.

But in what appears to be an oversight, when Apple transfers apps over it does not ask owners to enable the permission and it is not obvious that it needs to be done.

As a result, the app cannot enable the Bluetooth-based matching functionality it needs to work.

The requirement is designed to protect user’s privacy.

However, the alert shown by the app suggested other factors might be at play.

And to confuse matters further, when questioned about the matter the app’s official Twitter account responded by highlighting that the iPhone 12 was not among devices checked for compatibility with the software.

Some users had got round the problem by deleting the app and then downloading it again from the App Store, which triggered the exposure notification permission request.

About 18 million people have installed the NHS Covid-19 app so far. In addition to contact tracing, it is also used to log visits to restaurants and other leisure facilities, as well as to check symptoms and order a coronavirus test.

The BBC revealed last week that Huawei is also working with NHS Test and Trace officials to try and get the app working on some of its newer phones.

Covid: Wales lockdown supermarket rules need urgent debate

Pressure is mounting on the Welsh Government to reverse a ban on supermarkets selling “non-essential” items such as clothing in Wales.

A petition on the issue has more than 30,000 signatures – those that attract over 5,000 are debated in the Senedd.

Welsh Conservatives leader Paul Davies said the Senedd should be recalled to “urgently debate” the measure.

The Welsh Government said the firebreak was designed to limit contact between households.

Supermarkets have been told they can only sell “essential” items and must close parts of their stores which sell products such as clothes, shoes, toys and bedding during Wales’ 17-day “firebreak lockdown”.

The petition, asking that supermarkets should be allowed to sell “non-essential” items, is already one of the largest ever sent to the Senedd.

Jodi Merry, from Rhondda Cynon Taf, said the ban has come at an awkward time as she was planning to buy new clothes for her eight-year-old son after she gets paid next week.

“It’s just an inconvenience,” she said.

“My eight-year-old is tall for his age and getting clothes for him is hard enough as it is. I can’t just go online and order stuff. I know we can’t try clothes on in the shop but I can at least gauge whether it will fit him by holding it up to him.

“I know it’s only two weeks, and we’re a lot better off than others, but the fact of the matter is, he doesn’t have any winter pyjamas at the moment and with pay day in a few days I would have got some.

“Everything is essential when it’s something you desperately need and nobody should be controlling what you can and can’t buy in the supermarket. At the end of the day, clothing, shoes and even bedding are definitely essentials.”

The move has also led to some confusion over what supermarkets can and cannot sell.

The Welsh Government tweeted to say: “Supermarkets can keep selling items you can find in other essential shops – such as stationery/greeting cards.

“The purpose of selling essential items only during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops and to be fair to retailers who have to close.”

It continued: “This is not for the sake of being difficult – we need to do everything we can to minimise the time we spend outside our homes. This will help save lives and protect the NHS.”

In a statement, the Welsh Government added: “The fire-break is designed to reduce all physical contact between households to an absolute minimum in order to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.  

“We have a small window in which to take this action and there are no easy choices. However, we fully recognise the impact the fire-break will have on businesses and are making a further £300 million available to support them through this difficult period.”

In calling for the return of the Senedd/Welsh Parliament, Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies said: “People are concerned at being prevented from buying products such as books, bins, baby clothes in local shops and this is forcing them to purchase online or to make extra journeys to multiple shops searching for them.”

He added that members of the Senedd should be able to discuss the matter virtually.

The presiding officer has been approached for comment.

Previous large petitions related to the proposed closure of the A&E department at Withybush Hospital in Pembrokeshire (40,045), a call to teach black history in Welsh schools (34,736) and for 2020 exam grades to be awarded via teacher assessments (28,505).

Coronavirus: Support for taxi, coach and bus firms brought forward

A coronavirus funding package for the taxi, private bus and coach sectors is to be brought forward “urgently”.

On Thursday, Economy Minister Diane Dodds confirmed the scheme was under discussion.

She said Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon was seeking the power to bring it forward within the next week.

The first and deputy first minister say the necessary powers have been given to Ms Mallon to administer the schemes.

They have also asked the minister to provide further detail of the impact of the pandemic on the road haulage sector.

“The operators of taxis, private buses and coaches have faced a significant reduction in demand for their services, yet their overheads have continued,” said First Minister Arlene Foster.

“It is absolutely right that they should be able to avail of financial assistance to sustain them through this difficult time and I hope they will take some comfort in the knowledge that support will be forthcoming,” she added.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she was “pleased that the executive’s support schemes will soon include a bespoke funding package to alleviate the hardship being faced by workers in these sectors.”

Meanwhile, six further Covid-19 related deaths were announced in Northern Ireland on Saturday, bringing the Department of Health’s total to 645.

An additional 923 cases of the virus were also confirmed.

There are now 309 people in hospital in Northern Ireland with Covid-19; 34 of whom are in intensive care (ICU).

On Friday, government statistics agency Nisra said 17 Covid-19 related deaths were registered in Northern Ireland in the week up to 16 October.

In the Republic of Ireland, four additional deaths related to Covid-19 were reported on Saturday.

Some 859 new confirmed cases have been reported.

There are now 315 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of which 37 are in ICU.

New coronavirus restrictions were introduced in Northern Ireland on 16 October.

Schools were closed for an extra week at half-term.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes across NI closed their doors to sit-in customers, while hair and beauty salons were also shut and gyms face additional measures.

The restrictions are scheduled to last for three more weeks, after which there will be a review.

The executive is due to meet next week to discuss how to manage a further strategy.

Scotland works with nations to allow students home for Christmas

John Swinney says the Scottish government is doing everything it can to get students home for Christmas.

The deputy first minister said the four nations were trying to co-ordinate the mass movement of students to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.

He said he recognised the importance of family and community occasions but that suppressing the virus was paramount.

It comes after children in Scotland were asked to stay at home this Halloween.

In September, hundreds of students tested positive for coronavirus as universities across the UK began the new term, with thousands told to self-isolate in halls.

Students were asked to stay away from parties, pubs and restaurants for a weekend and were only allowed to return home if they could self-isolate and their households went into quarantine.

At the time Nicola Sturgeon said it was “absolutely our priority” to make sure that students are able to return home for Christmas.

John Swinney told the BBC the four nations had been working on a solution.

He said: “We are working closely with the university community and also with the other nations of the United Kingdom to make sure we can support students to return home at Christmas time.

“That is our intention to make sure that is possible but we are looking closely at the practical steps that will have to be undertaken to make sure that movement of people around the country at Christmas time is done in as safe a way as possible and in a way that does not in any way fuel the growth and the development of the virus.”

He added: “We want to get students home for Christmas. We think that’s a really important part of the lives of students and their families so we want to make that practical and possible.”

Meanwhile, students from Edinburgh University staged a protest over their “mistreatment” by the institution during the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters claim the university made a “false promise” of hybrid learning and said many students would not have taken out leases on flats if they had known most learning would be online.

They also claim the university’s treatment of first years has been “terrible”, saying that the university has “locked them in halls of residences with zero regard for their mental health and wellbeing”.

Students gathered to protest in the city’s Bristo Square on Saturday, calling for better treatment and services and an “actual provision of hybrid learning”, saying if the university cannot provide this then a cut in fees for the online semester is needed.

The university said academic and support staff had been working “tirelessly” to provide students with the world-class education that they expect from the institution.

A spokeswoman said: “We have been working closely with the Students’ Union and other student groups to ensure that their views are heard at the highest level.

“Students are receiving a hybrid learning experience, in line with Scottish government guidance, with some in-person teaching taking place on campus. We are delivering more than 95,000 hours of teaching this semester and more than 35,000 hours of these are scheduled to take place on campus. “

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