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Coronavirus: Retailers hike prices of cough and cold medicines

Retailers hiked prices of cough and cold medicines by 10.7% last week, according to new ONS data. (PA)

The prices of cough and cold medicines went up 10.7% last week, according to new analysis.

The price spike was highlighted by analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) regarding the impact of coronavirus on the economy.

Online prices set by a number of UK retailers showed a marked increase in prices over-the-counter cough and cold treatments for the week ending 29 March compared to the week before.

It was the biggest price increase among a list of "high-demand products" that saw higher demand from consumers during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK.

The online price for a basket of 22 “high-demand products” increased by 1.1% between 16 and 29 March, an annual rate of inflation of more than 53%, the ONS said.

Read more: UK high streets hit by lockdown suffer worst month on record

A dry cough is one of the main symptoms of the coronavirus.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the UK’s competition watchdog, in March warned retailers not to take advantage of fears about coronavirus by increasing prices and said it would take action against those who “exploit” the situation.

Other items saw smaller price increases, with paracetamol up by  2.8% and antibacterial wipes up 0.9%. Prices of handwash, pet food, and toilet rolls also rose slightly.

A few of the products included in the ONS data such as baby food and pasta saw prices fall slightly reflecting some retailers attempts to protect “customers from rising costs in the supply chain, even lowering prices where they can,” according to British Retail Consortium.

Liliana Danila, economist at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers have seen an increase in demand as individuals take precautions to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“ONS data shows that retailers have gone further during these difficult times by protecting customers from rising costs in the supply chain, even lowering prices where they can.

Read more: Nearly a million people apply for universal credit in past two weeks

“For some high demand products retailers have discouraged over purchasing by removing promotions, returning products to standard price.”

The ONS data also highlighted the impact of the coronavirus on the UK labour market — for 3,642 businesses surveyed between 9 and 22 March, 27% said they were reducing staffing in the short term.

Those figures suggested an even bigger impact to come as much of the data was recorded before the introduction of the coronavirus lockdown on 20 March.

The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) both issued warnings on Thursday, saying millions of people could be fired or furloughed as COVID-19 brings the economy to a halt.

CIPD said 52% of businesses surveyed planned to use the furlough scheme. The BCC’s survey of 600 businesses found 44% were planning to furlough at least 50% of staff in the next week.

Read more: One in four businesses plan layoffs and half plan to furlough

Nearly a million people applied for universal credit benefit in the past two weeks, suggesting redundancies have already begun en masse.