On 20 March 2020, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (“DEFRA”) has announced a raft of measures relating to food supply and key workers with the easing the impact of COVID-19 for UK retailers and workers.

The Department of Education and Cabinet Office has published guidance on key workers for COVID-19.  The guidance prioritises those who work in sectors considered as critical to the COVID-19 response, including workers involved in the food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example, hygienic and veterinary medicines).  Other key workers include those in health and social care, education and childcare, local and national government etc..  Children that cannot be kept safely at home will have their education prioritised if they have a parent who is considered a key worker.

Whilst DEFRA works closely with the food and drink industry to monitor the situation and impact of the food supply chain, the government agency has introduced measures such as extending delivery hours to supermarkets to allow a higher frequency of deliveries to stores to ensure that shelves are replenished more quickly.  A temporary relaxation of the enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules also began from 00:01 on 18 March 2020 to last until 11:59 on 16 April 2020.  This applies solely to drivers involved in the supply of food and other essential products to supermarkets.

New home delivery guidance was issued on 18 March 2020 by the Association of Convenience Stores (“ACS”) on how to safely conduct local grocery deliveries to support those that are self-isolating.  The guidance explains what regulations apply to those thinking of opting for home deliveries and provides simple advice on how to conduct deliveries in a way that best promotes good hygiene and minimises the risk of passing on COVID-19, amongst other viruses.

In response to the evolving situation and requests from retailers, the government plans to outlay legislation next week to relax elements of competition laws temporarily so that retailers can collaborate on contingency plans and share resources as necessary during this period.

The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) has launched a taskforce today in order to monitor the government’s plan to relax competition law and warns firms suspected of exploiting these exceptional circumstances through unjustifiable prices or misleading claims.  The CMA has already contacted traders and platforms regarding excessive pricing of hand sanitiser.  The taskforce will enable the CMA to advise the government on emergency legislation and how to ensure competition law does not stand in the way of legitimate measures that protect public health as “[t]his 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” (Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive Officer of the CMA).