Lockdown in UK and France, Take 2: Are books and toys ‘nonessential’?


During spring in the U.K., gardeners couldn’t shop for seeds or compost, items deemed “nonessential.” In France, bookstores were off-limits, and residents were allowed to spend just one hour outside their homes for any reason. So with “COVID fatigue” rampant after the first wave of the pandemic, officials have had the challenging task of making rules to curb COVID-19’s spread that the public could abide, without bringing the economy to a standstill. 

Some governments created lists of essential items – forcing small businesses selling products like clothing, books, and toys to temporarily close, and large chains to block off such items to shoppers.

One concern is that consumers will permanently move to online platforms or chains. But small businesses are banking on consumers’ love for tradition to carry them through this rough patch.

“Even if we can’t say that all French people are interested in culture, there is certainly a great literary tradition in France and a love for real books,” says Bruno Péquignot, a sociology professor emeritus. “People will never put books in the trash can; always next to it, in case someone wants to take them. It’s a form of respect.”

Tenerife, Spain; and London, England

There they were, wedged between the sprinkles and the chocolate chips: a set of candles. Niamh O’Brien knew they weren’t vital to her boyfriend’s birthday celebration that evening, but they were mere inches from reach. Unfortunately, a stretch of red-and-white tape prevented her from going down this supermarket aisle; a plastic sheet draped over the shelves. 

With candles deemed a nonessential item in France’s second lockdown, Ms. O’Brien had a choice – buck the tradition this year, or duck under the tape and grab them.

“I asked the shop clerk if I could get the candles and he said no, so I asked if he could take them for me, but he said he wasn’t allowed,” says Ms. O’Brien, who was shopping in an E.Leclerc superstore in Toulouse. “So I snuck under the barrier, lifted up the plastic and took them. I also grabbed a birthday banner.” 

As France tapers off restrictions implemented to fight the second wave of the pandemic, the government has had the challenging task of making rules that the public could abide, without bringing the economy to a standstill. This past spring, residents were limited to one hour outside their homes, for any reason. But with “COVID fatigue” rampant, governments in Europe have been taking a softer approach to restrictions. In November, schools, transportation, and public services have remained open in France.     

In some parts of the U.K. and France, governments created lists of essential items, forcing small businesses selling products like clothing, books, and toys to temporarily close, and large chains to block off certain items to shoppers. The idea is to minimize people’s close contact with others and keep residents at home. 

But many shoppers and store owners said the decision to close certain establishments was misguided, and unfairly targets culture, entertainment, and self-care. There is also concern that shoppers will increasingly move to online platforms or chain stores in the suburbs, a possible long-term consequence for consumption habits long after lockdowns have been lifted. 

“The government says if we open bookstores we’ll have to open hair salons, florists and so-on, or that if people respect the lockdown we can have our small businesses back,” says Pierre Dutilleul, the managing director of the French Publishers Association, SNE. “It’s incomprehensible and absurd. When you can’t explain a decision, it probably means that it isn’t a good one.”

OK, what if we do it like this?

The debate over essential items exploded in France at the end of October, when the government announced that independent bookstores would need to shutter while large chains and superstores – many of which sell books – were allowed to remain open. 

Booksellers called it a gross injustice, and the government finally decided that supermarkets and general stores would need to block off nonessential items – not only books but toys, clothing, and games – starting Nov. 3. 

Garden stores “tap into the psyche of the British public,” says Peter Hulatt, managing director of Camden Garden Centre in London. “When the economy is difficult, everyone goes into nest building mode. … It’s about making where you live a better place to be. In lockdown, that’s magnified 10 times.”

A similar phenomenon in Wales saw supermarkets taping off nonessential items during a brief two-week “firebreak” or “circuit breaker” lockdown, ending Nov. 9. “It’s a straightforward matter of fairness,” said First Minister Mark Drakeford at the end of October. “We are in this together in Wales.” 

But such attempts to appease small business owners have felt like small favors for many, who say that the decision to close their shops feels arbitrary and contradictory, given all they’ve learned about social distancing and hygiene after the first lockdown.

“People can congregate in large stores without anyone monitoring them, whereas we could easily allow just one or two customers inside at a time,” says Christine Durietz, the manager of Le Dragon Savant, a children’s books and toy store in the east of Paris. “In the end it’s the responsibility of each individual. But I do feel like we’ve been unfairly reprimanded.” 

That is the general feeling among garden store owners in England, who were placed on the list of nonessential businesses during the country’s spring lockdown. When hardware stores – selling gardening products alongside building materials – were allowed to remain open, it caused “great unease in the garden industry,” says Peter Hulatt, Camden Garden Centre’s managing director in London. 

Most garden store shopping takes place outdoors, making it safer and easier to implement social distancing between customers. And, like bookstores in France, nurseries are considered sacred to British life; gardening, a British obsession. 

The home garden tradition stretches back to the 1700s and has only strengthened during the pandemic. Sales of houseplants have soared among apartment-dwellers, and garden stores have been a lifeline for those seeking community, acting as “a place of solace and meeting,” says Camden Garden Centre employee Lawrence Tynan. 

The gardening industry was finally able to convince the government to add its stores to the “essential” list in the country’s second lockdown, beginning Nov. 5 and ending Dec. 2. Garden stores “tap into the psyche of the British public,” says Mr. Hulatt. “When the economy is difficult, everyone goes into nest-building mode. … It’s about making where you live a better place to be. In lockdown, that’s magnified 10 times.” 

An eye on the holidays

While the U.K. recorded a COVID-19 death total on Tuesday that was the highest since early May, the new case rate has been falling. All nonessential businesses in the U.K., including gyms and personal care services, will be allowed to open next week, in the run-up to Christmas.   

And on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the worst of the second wave was over, and announced that nonessential businesses could reopen Nov. 28 under strict health protocols. But independent shop owners haven’t waited for news about the end of restrictions to jump-start sales. 

A growing number on both sides of the channel have joined the Click and Collect system, where consumers can purchase items online and pick them up at the store. It’s an alternative to online platforms like Amazon, which Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has said will be “the death of our bookstores and neighborhood life.” In mid-November, Amazon had agreed to push back Black Friday sales to Dec. 4, in the expectation that nonessential businesses would be allowed to open by then. 

But Click and Collect isn’t a cure-all to the concerns of independent shop owners. According to the CPME, a union that represents France’s small and medium-sized businesses, only 15% of very small businesses are selling their products through online platforms, even if 82% of French people buy online.

And some French businesses are already abandoning Click and Collect, as the costs of employing more staff to accommodate the demand for online orders has caused more losses than gains.

“We’ll reach 20% of our average monthly sales in November,” says Ms. Durietz of Le Dragon Savant, “if we’re lucky.” 

Even as France lifts restrictions on nonessential items, some customers may have already changed their shopping habits. 

“If it takes two days to receive a book we’ve ordered online, or if all the local stores are closed and we have to drive 40 minutes to get to the superstore, we’ll buy everything we need [there], including books,” says Mr. Dutilleul of the SNE. “People will get in the habit, and in the future will start shopping this way.” 

Small business owners across Europe are banking on consumers’ love for tradition to carry them through this rough patch. In France, booksellers will rely on the continued desire for real books, in a country where e-book user penetration is only expected to reach 8.6% in 2020.

“Even if we can’t say that all French people are interested in culture, there is certainly a great literary tradition in France and a love for real books,” says Bruno Péquignot, a sociology professor emeritus who studies culture at the University of Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle. “People will never put books in the trash can; always next to it, in case someone wants to take them. It’s a form of respect.”



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Coronavirus: Motorists told insurance might be invalid for non-essential trips during lockdown | UK News



Drivers who make non-essential journeys during lockdown have been warned their insurance could be invalid.

Motorists could end up paying “thousands” for repairs if they are involved in an accident and have been urged to speak to their insurers to seek clarification about what their policy covers.

If a driver has an accident during a non-essential trip, it is possible the insurer could reject the claim.

Live coronavirus updates from the UK and around the world

Florence Codjoe of Uswitch.com told the Daily Mirror: “You could end up paying thousands for repairs.

“If you’re unsure about cover during lockdown, speak to your insurer for clarification.”

She also warned drivers should not cancel their insurance unless they have off-street parking for their vehicle.

Leaving your vehicle on the road without any insurance cover is illegal and could lead to a fine.

England entered stricter nationwide rules last week in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus with people only allowed to leave their home for a specific reason.

People can make journeys for medical needs, childcare or education, shopping for food and essentials, or to provide care for vulnerable people.

Scotland has areas under different levels of restrictions while Northern Ireland is currently approaching the end of a four-week “circuit breaker”.

Wales is now under new safety measures after the end of its 17-day firebreak lockdown.



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Tesco barricades ‘non-essential’ winter coats and children’s clothes in Streatham store


Tesco has barred shoppers from buying winter coats and children’s clothes by barricading items deemed ‘non-essential’ at one of its London stores. 

A photo taken in the store, in Streatham, South London, showed metal barricades blocking off the coats and clothes, among other items. 

The scene echoed those seen across Wales last month after the Welsh government ordered supermarkets to only sell goods which they deemed ‘essential’. 

The measures had prompted one man to tear off plastic sheets which were covering ‘non-essential’ goods in a Tesco store in Bangor, while another man ran into a store in Newport wearing only his boxer shorts. 

The photo in the Streatham store was taken by an angry shopper who posted on Twitter. It came after the England last week went back into a national lockdown. 

Tesco has barred shoppers from buying winter coats and children’s clothes by barricading items deemed ‘non-essential’ at one of its London stores. A photo taken in the store, in Streatham, South London, showed metal barricades blocking off the coats and clothes, among other items

The scene echoed those seen across Wales last month after the Welsh government ordered supermarkets to only sell goods which they deemed 'essential'. The measures had prompted one man to tear off plastic sheets which were covering 'non-essential' goods in a Tesco store in Bangor

The scene echoed those seen across Wales last month after the Welsh government ordered supermarkets to only sell goods which they deemed ‘essential’. The measures had prompted one man to tear off plastic sheets which were covering ‘non-essential’ goods in a Tesco store in Bangor

The shopper wrote: ‘Disappointed to see after the uproar of blocking off clothing, toys, homeware etc sections in one of your stores in Wales, you’ve now done this in your Streatham Extra store.

 ‘I can buy booze, but, not a kettle or underwear.’ 

A Tesco spokesman replied on Twitter: ‘In line with new Government guidance in England which requires the closure of separate floors selling non-food items, we have closed the Clothing and General Merchandise departments in our stores that sell these products from a separate mezzanine level.’

The Government’s guidance, released on November 5, says: ‘Where a business has sufficiently distinct parts, and one section provides essential retail and one section provides non-essential retail, the non-essential sections should close to limit interactions between customers and the opportunity for the disease to spread.

The shopper wrote: 'Disappointed to see after the uproar of blocking off clothing, toys, homeware etc sections in one of your stores in Wales, you've now done this in your Streatham Extra store. I can buy booze, but, not a kettle or underwear'

The shopper wrote: ‘Disappointed to see after the uproar of blocking off clothing, toys, homeware etc sections in one of your stores in Wales, you’ve now done this in your Streatham Extra store. I can buy booze, but, not a kettle or underwear’

A Tesco spokesman replied on Twitter: 'In line with new Government guidance in England which requires the closure of separate floors selling non-food items, we have closed the Clothing and General Merchandise departments in our stores that sell these products from a separate mezzanine level

A Tesco spokesman replied on Twitter: ‘In line with new Government guidance in England which requires the closure of separate floors selling non-food items, we have closed the Clothing and General Merchandise departments in our stores that sell these products from a separate mezzanine level

‘For example a food shop may stay open, but a homeware section on a separate floor or separate building should close.’

The photo came after the Welsh Government’s similar measures provoked uproar across the country.   

A 28-year-old man was charged with criminal damage and breaching coronavirus regulations after plastic sheets were torn off ‘non-essential’ goods in a Tesco store in Bangor. 

A video posted on social media showed the man, who was not wearing a mask, shouting: ‘Since when have clothes been exempt?, rip the f***ers off… kids’ f***ing clothes, it is a disgrace.’

The photo came after the Welsh Government's similar measures provoked uproar across the country. Pictured: Clothes which were taped off at an Asda store in Cardiff last month

The photo came after the Welsh Government’s similar measures provoked uproar across the country. Pictured: Clothes which were taped off at an Asda store in Cardiff last month

Bedding was also apparently considered a luxury item as duvets and sheets were seen taped off at a Tesco store in Pontypool during Wales's lockdown

Bedding was also apparently considered a luxury item as duvets and sheets were seen taped off at a Tesco store in Pontypool during Wales’s lockdown

What are the rules for shops in England’s new lockdown?

Shops that can stay open:

  • Food shops
  • Supermarkets – but those with ‘sufficiently distinct parts’ should close areas selling non-essential items
  • Garden centres 
  • Retailers providing essential goods and services 

Shops that must shut (including but not limited to): 

  • Clothing
  • Electronics stores 
  • Vehicle showrooms 
  • Travel agents 
  • Betting shops
  • Auction houses
  • Tailors 
  • Car washes 
  • Tobacco and vape shops  

A security staff member approached him and he replied: ‘Since when has clothing not been essential.’

The store worker, who was wearing a face covering, confronted him over an F&F label stall while the cameraman ran away from another employee. 

A day later, a father attempted to shop at a Tesco store in Newport, Gwent, dressed only in his boxer shorts and a face mask.    

He was stopped by security staff as he tried to push his trolley the store.

His furious wife Dawn, 33, filmed him as he tried to access the store, demanding: ‘Clothes are non essential – let him in.’

Dawn told the workers: ‘Clothes are deemed now non-essential. Your stores policy says clothes are non essential.

‘Let him in to buy some clothes.

‘This is beyond a joke. There are children out there growing that need clothes.’

But a security guards says: ‘He’s not appropriately dressed. Go and take it up with the government.’

‘You can’t come in dressed like that.’

When the staff say they won’t let him in, Dawn repeated: ‘So clothes are essential to day-to-day life?’

The worker replied: ‘Of course they are.’

The couple were turned away but Dawn later posted the video online saying: ‘Please note that no lockdown rules were broken, nobody was put at risk, this non essentials list is beyond a joke! Clothes aren’t essential are they Mr Drakefold.’

Dad Chris Noden, 38

Dad Chris Noden, 38

Chris Noden, 38, was stopped by security staff as he tried to push his trolley into the Tesco store in Newport, south Wales wearing just his boxers and a face mask



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#Coronavirus – Commission requests to an extension of restrictions for non-essential travel to EU until 15 June


The Commission has invited Schengen member states and Schengen associated states to extend the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for another 30 days, until 15 June. While some EU and Schengen associated states are taking preliminary steps towards easing the measures for fighting the spread of the pandemic, the situation remains fragile both in Europe and worldwide.

This calls for continued measures at the external borders to reduce the risk of the disease spreading through travel to the EU. The lifting of travel restrictions should be phased: as underlined in the Joint European Road Map on lifting containment measures, internal border controls will need to start being lifted gradually and in a coordinated manner before restrictions at the external borders can be relaxed in a second stage.

Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas, said: “The overall objective of limiting the spread of coronavirus via reduced social interaction remains. Despite progress in many European countries, the situation worldwide is very fragile. It is imperative that any action taken is gradual, with different measures being lifted in different phases.”

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson underlined: “We need a phased and coordinated approach. Restoring the normal functioning of the Schengen area of free movement is our first objective as soon as the health situation allows it. Restrictions on free movement and internal border controls will need to be lifted gradually before we can remove restrictions at the external borders and guarantee access to the EU for non-EU residents for non-essential travel.”

The travel restriction, as well as the invitation to extend it, applies to the ‘EU+ area’, which includes all Schengen member states (including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania) and the four Schengen associated states (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) – 30 countries in total. The Commission calls for a continued coordinated approach to the prolongation, as action at the external borders can only be effective if implemented by all EU and Schengen states at all borders, with the same end date and in a uniform manner.

The Commission will continue to assist member states in implementing the restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, including through regular videoconference meetings with home affairs ministers. Any further prolongation of the travel restriction beyond 15 June 2020 would need to be assessed again, based on the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

Background

The Commission invited heads of state or government on 16 March 2020 to introduce a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for an initial period of 30 days. On 8 April, the Commission called for prolonging the travel restriction until 15 May. All EU member states (except Ireland) and non-EU Schengen countries have since taken national decisions to implement and prolong this travel restriction.

To assist member states, the Commission presented on 30 March 2020 guidance on how to implement the temporary travel restriction, facilitate repatriations from across the world, and deal with those compelled to stay in the EU longer than they are authorized to as a result of travel restrictions.

The travel restriction does not apply to EU citizens, citizens of non-EU Schengen countries and their family members, and non-EU nationals who are long-term residents in the EU for the purpose of returning home. In addition, to limit to the minimum the impact of the restriction on the functioning of our societies, member states should not apply the restrictions to specific categories of travellers with an essential function or need. Essential staff, such as doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, researchers and experts helping to cope with the coronavirus, as well as persons carrying goods, frontier workers and seasonal agricultural workers, should also continue to be allowed to enter the EU.

More information

Communication on the second assessment of the application of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, 8 May 2020

Q&A for people travelling to and from the EU during the pandemic

Communication on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, 16 March 2020

Press release – Coronavirus: Commission invites Member States to prolong restriction on non-essential travel to the EU until 15 May, 8 April 2020

Press release – Coronavirus: Commission presents practical guidance on implementing the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, 30 March 2020



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