In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has today warned businesses not to “exploit the current situation”.
As the number of confirmed UK cases of COVID-19 hits 90, the regulator said it will “consider any evidence that companies may have broken competition or consumer protection law”.
According to the report, this includes examples of charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment.
Alongside enforcement action, the CMA also revealed that it was in talks with the Government to consider taking “direct action to regulate prices”.
The warning comes after reports of retailers and e-commerce marketplaces vastly inflating the price of certain medical products, such as face masks, despite such equipment not being necessary in the prevention of the disease.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, healthy people need only wear a face mask if they are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus, or if they are coughing or sneezing themselves.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), meanwhile, recently banned adverts by two companies which made false claims about using face masks. Commenting on the ruling, the regulator said the offending media was “misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason”.
Commenting on the report, CMA Chairman Lord Tyrie said: “We will do whatever we can to act against rip-offs and misleading claims, using any or all of our tools; and where we can’t act, we’ll advise government on further steps they could take, if necessary.”
CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli added: “We urge retailers to behave responsibly throughout the coronavirus outbreak and not to make misleading claims or charge vastly inflated prices. We also remind members of the public that these obligations may apply to them too if they resell goods, for example on online marketplaces.”
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