Amidst the coronavirus outbreak, it has become apparent globally that prices at some retailers and online platforms for coronavirus-related products, such as hand sanitiser gel and respiratory masks, have increased sharply.

In France, the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, announced today that the French government suspects that retailers and pharmacists have been taking advantage of consumers stocking up to protect against coronavirus to apply abusive price increases, and it will therefore regulate the price of alcohol-based hand gels.

Le Maire also asked his ministry’s Department of Competition, Consumption and Fraud Repression (DGCCRF) to open an investigation into the sudden surge of prices for alcohol-based hand gels. The DGCCRF can impose fines on businesses of up to 150,000 euros (£103,000) or 5% of a company’s revenue, whichever value is lower.

Yesterday (3 March 2020) the UK government published its “Coronavirus: action plan” outlining what the UK as a whole has done – and plans to do – to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

As yet, the government has given no public indication that they intend to regulate the pricing of coronavirus-related products. However, it is not impossible that it would consider a similar regulation necessary. The Government has talked about the possibility of emergency legislation in some areas, and would be likely to see action to stop what could be seen as profiteering as publicly popular. The Competition and Markets Authority also has the power to investigate suspected pricing abuses.