With panic buyers and hoarders clearing our supermarket shelves, the competition watchdog has authorised supermarkets to coordinate on ensuring consistent and reliable supply.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) interim authorisation will allow supermarkets to coordinate with each other when working with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers.
The watchdog hopes this will ensure the supply and equitable distribution of fresh food, groceries and other household items.
Benefits from the measure are expected to flow to those who are vulnerable or living in rural or remote areas.
Supermarkets will not be allowed to discuss and agree on retail prices for products under the interim authorisation.
The authorisation applies to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash, as well as any other grocery retailer wishing to participate in coordination efforts.
Supermarkets will be protected from any court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competitive provisions under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
"Australia's supermarkets have experienced unprecedented demand for groceries in recent weeks, both in store and online, which has led to shortages of some products and disruption to delivery services," says ACCC chair Rod Sims.
"This is essentially due to unnecessary panic buying, and the logistics challenge this presents, rather than an underlying supply problem."
"We recognise and appreciate that individual supermarket chains have already taken a number of important steps to mitigate the many issues caused by panic buying. We believe allowing these businesses to work together to discuss further solutions is appropriate and necessary at this time."
The measures come as Australia hits 1885 total confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Most of the cases are in New South Wales (818 total), followed by Victoria (411), Queensland (296), Western Australia (140), South Australia (134), Tasmania (27), the Australian Capital Territory (32) and the Northern Territory (4).
Seven deaths have been recorded to date.
Coles extends Community Hour
Coles is extending two of its daily Community Hour shopping periods per week to emergency services and healthcare workers.
The first hour of trade on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7am to 8am will be for emergency services and healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital and ambulance staff, police, firefighters, and emergency service workers who hold an AHPRA card, have a workplace ID or are wearing their uniform.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday Coles Community Hours will continue to be dedicated to vulnerable and elderly customers who hold a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card, Seniors Card, Disability Card and Health Care Card.
Updated at 11:24am AEDT on 24 March 2020.
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