The competition watchdog has said it will clamp down on retailers using the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to exploit customers.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the outbreak has prompted concerns that people could be exploited by companies “charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about their products”.
It said it has already contacted traders and platforms over excessive pricing of hand sanitiser as part of its efforts.
The CMA has now launched a “taskforce” to deal specifically with inquiries related to the pandemic.
It said it will be able to take enforcement action or seek emergency powers if there is evidence that firms may have breached competition or consumer protection law and fail to respond to warnings.
The taskforce will also scrutinise market developments to identify harmful sales and pricing practices.
CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “This is obviously a time when we all have to behave responsibly to protect our fellow citizens, and particularly those who are most vulnerable.
“We urge retailers to behave responsibly in the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“But if they do not, our taskforce is monitoring market developments to enable us to intervene as quickly as possible.”
Andrew Tyrie, the CMA’s chairman, said: “The intervention in the economy necessitated by public health policy may have a substantial impact on competition, with the risk of an increase in consumer detriment. That’s why this taskforce is needed.
“The CMA is already mitigating some of these risks using existing powers.”
Despite the outbreak, the CMA said it will continue to progress with cases, make decisions and meet deadlines regarding ongoing work with adjustments such as increased working from home.
On Thursday, the government also announced that competition laws will be temporarily relaxed to allow supermarkets to collaborate in feeding the nation during the crisis.