Competition laws are being relaxed by the government in an effort to help supermarkets work together to “feed the nation”.
The move will allow retailers to share stock level data with each other, pool staff with one another to keep stores open, and use each other’s vehicles and depots.
Later today the government will seek to amend elements of the Competition Act 1998, which prevents certain types of anti-competitive behaviour.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, which proposed the changes, also said the government would waive the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases - helping to speed up deliveries.
The changes to the law come after Environment Secretary George Eustice held a crisis meeting with CEOs from the UK’s leading supermarkets and food industry representatives on Thursday (19 March).
Stores across the country have struggled to meet the demand for a large number of supplies like toilet paper, pasta, and milk, as panicked shoppers stockpile amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Announcing the support for suppliers, Eustice said: “We’ve listened to the powerful arguments of our leading supermarkets and will do whatever it takes to help them feed the nation.
“By relaxing elements of competition laws temporarily, our retailers can work together on their contingency plans and share the resources they need with each other during these unprecedented circumstances.
“We welcome the measures supermarkets are already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus,” he added.
‘In the spirit of working together’
Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, reacting to the news, said: “We welcome this important decision by the government to give retailers greater flexibility to work together to tackle the challenges posed by coronavirus.
“Retailers have been working hard to ensure shelves are stocked and this is an exceptional step taken by government to help retailers and their suppliers cope with problems that might be caused by widescale absences across the supply chain.
“This is a short term measure, in the spirit of working together, and will allow retailers to agree common specifications for products to bolster food production, and co-ordinate certain operations to ensure customers anywhere in the UK have access to the essential items they need,” he finished.
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
Government adviceAs of Monday 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible. Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms now needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has also advised against going to the pub, out for dinner or partaking in any socialising with large groups. This has caused a number of closures across the country. Schools will close from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. For more information on government advice, please check their website.
Should I avoid public places?The advice now is to avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.
When to call NHS 111NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.
Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS