What are non-essential shops and what are essential shops?

Within the last two days, the whole of England has fallen in to a third lockdown. Though cases and hospital admissions are lower than the English average in Tameside, its recent rise in cases is a cause for concern. Lockdown 3.0 is expected to last till mid-February, though some cabinet ministers have hinted at lasting till March.

For Tameside, the step from Tier 3 to Lockdown 3.0 (via a few days in Tier 4) is a small step. Firstly, our borough and the rest of its fellow boroughs, which make up Greater Manchester have been in some sort of lockdown since March 2020. We have been in the strictest tiers since the end of July. Secondly, due to the severity of our local lockdowns, Lockdown 3.0 is basically Tier 4 with the closure of our schools and gymnasiums.

Under Tier 4 and Lockdown 3.0 conditions, pubs are closed for anybody wishing to sit down for a quiet pint. Non-essential retail businesses are closed. With Lockdown 3.0 lies the possibility of restricting pub off-sales.

What can be seen as ‘non-essential’ in the eyes of the law could well be ‘essential’ to some households where the need is great. If a household’s cooker conks out, there is no way they can go to Currys PC World or Argos in person. If the purchase can be made online, that’s fine.

Another example is stationery. S/he might need a new pen or notebook, so their first port of call could be The Works. As The Works would fall under ‘non-essential’ (how can books non-essential?), s/he would have to go to WHSmith (more expensive) or Wilko (cheaper). In some parts of the UK, a WHSmith store would fall under the ‘non-essential’ category. If the WHSmith has a Post Office (like Ashton’s branch), it falls under the ‘essential’ category.

In a nutshell, any store that sells essential items in addition to non-essential items can continue to trade in lockdown conditions. Store managers and chains may reserve the right to cordon off non-essential items, as proven in previous lockdowns over the last year.

What kind of shops can stay open in the Tameside area?

According to HM Government’s lockdown conditions, the following retail premises can continue to trade:

  • Supermarkets and convenience stores;
  • Pharmacies;
  • Garden centres;
  • Off licences;
  • Indoor and outdoor market stalls (selling essential items);
  • Repair shops (i.e.: shoe repairs, computers, electrical appliances);
  • Banks, Building Societies and Post Offices;
  • Short-term loan providers and money transfer businesses (i.e.: Cash Converters);
  • Funeral Directors;
  • Launderettes;
  • Dry cleaners;
  • Food shops (takeaway only).

For non-essential retailers, there are two ways they can continue to trade. One is by offering a click-and-collect service. The other is by going online. Deliveries can continue as usual, though you should expect some delays due to demand or short staffing.

If you only shop in food shops and market stalls, supermarkets, variety stores or Pound Shops, it is pretty much ‘as you were’. Well, pretty normal albeit with social distancing measures and sanitiser on entry and exit from the store.

Variety Stores: Essential or Non-Essential?

Firstly, you might be wondering what a Variety Store is compared with a department store or a supermarket. A Variety Store is exactly what is does on the tin: it offers a variety of stuff for essential use (groceries, cleaning supplies) and not-so-essential use like giftware. Often with items at a cut price or at an inexpensive price, like Woolworths did until 2009.

Supermarkets could be classed as variety stores, as can discounters like B&M and Poundland. As they have a selection of ‘non-essential’ merchandise, some might argue the case for a lack of preferential treatment. Yet, that cheap and cheerful notepad in Wilko is a must for taking down the notes of a pre-interview telephone conversation. If you are taking part in a virtual quiz with friends, it is another must (like a bag of ballpoint pens). If you are conscious about cleanliness at a cheap and cheerful price, One Below or Poundland are your friends.

Why off-licences?

Before anybody else thinks ‘you shouldn’t be drinking during a pandemic’, off-licences perform an important role besides the sale of cheap Carling. Many are convenience stores in their own right, offering essential goods like bread, batteries and milk.

Shouldn’t the markets be closed?

The market halls and open market grounds in Tameside mainly offer essential items. At Ashton-under-Lyne and Hyde market halls, all the usual food stalls will be open. The most its cafés can offer is a takeaway service.

Though a supermarket can sell a selection of non-essential items, markets are different. Stallholders of non-essential merchandise have to close their stalls till the end of lockdown, unless they offer a click-and-collect service for personal callers.

Staying at home and shopping online

Unlike the first lockdown, the criteria for staying at home, shielding, and leaving the house isn’t as strict. You can still leave the house for exercise, shopping for essential items, collecting prescriptions, attending medical appointments and banking. During the first lockdown, you could only leave the house for no more than an hour a day on a return journey. Travelling to the next town was discouraged, unless your job does not allow for working from home.

Today, travelling on any form of transport besides cycling or walking is discouraged. With the lockdown in place, we recommend reducing your journeys to and from your local supermarkets. If you need to leave your home for shopping, don’t forget to sanitise your hands as often as possible and wear a face covering. Try not to go to the supermarket more often than once a week.

If part of your shopping trip for essential items means a trip to the café or bakery, please be mindful of the fact that individual businesses or entire chains may close their doors. To avoid going hungry, make your own sandwiches or take a pie or two with you from home. Better still, have your dinner at home before setting off, or after you come back from the shops.

But I would like to buy some non-essential items…

If you really need to buy ‘non-essential items’, shopping online is the only game in town. Please note that delivery times will be extended. Should your items be coming from an online retailer outside the UK, expect to pay VAT and customs charges as well as higher postage and packaging prices.

How do I avoid the queues outside my local supermarket?

The most obvious way around this is to avoid busy times of the day. If you have been furloughed or work on a part time basis, you have ample time to call in outside peak hours. From my experience, Saturday afternoons at 1pm are fairly busy. Sundays are less so. During the first lockdown, my local Morrisons (and countless superstores) had queues that were last seen in St. Petersburg before the fall of Communism.

Your best bet is to call in during ‘traditional 9 to 5’ office hours if you are able to do so. If you are a Key Worker, special shopping times may be available.

Most importantly, stay safe…

If you can, please do most of your shopping online. If you need to leave the house for your supermarket, off-licence or Post Office, just go on your own (there is no need to take the whole family with you). Should you use public transport for your journey, try to go for routes where social distancing is easy to practice (i.e: lesser used routes or frequent routes that are lightly loaded at certain times of the day). Better still, if your local supermarket or shopping centre is a short distance, walk or cycle.

One more thing: consider others before you go shopping. If you are under the weather, please stay at home. Don’t even think of panic buying on essential items, either.

For further information, visit GOV.UK’s page on coronavirus and how the third lockdown will affect you.

S.V., 05 January 2021.

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