£150 for hand sanitiser? You must be joking

Pedestrians walk in Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

(Reuters) - Britain’s competition watchdog has warned retailers against price gouging on highly sought after goods in the coronavirus outbreak, as prices of disinfectants and hand sanitisers online soared to as much as 40 times normal rates.

"We urge retailers to behave responsibly throughout the coronavirus outbreak and not to make misleading claims or charge vastly inflated prices," UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli here

Reuters checks on Amazon on Thursday found a 600ml bottle of Defendol hospital grade antibacterial hand gel on offer by three different sellers at either 129 pounds ($166.63) or 150 pounds ($193.76).

The same product was selling for 19 pounds last week, according to price tracking website camelcamelcamel and was also still available on high street pharmacy Superdrug’s website at 3.49 pounds.

Italian authorities last month began an investigation into rocketing online prices for hygienic masks and sanitising gels following the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy. Inc AMZN.O has barred more than 1 million products from sale in recent weeks that inaccurately claimed to cure or defend against the coronavirus, the company told Reuters last week.

The CMA said it would take direct action in appropriate cases and assess whether it should advise the government to consider taking action to regulate prices.

Britain has so far registered 90 cases of novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, but has held off from introducing measures to restrict movement or to cancel large gatherings for fear of hurting the economy.

Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Patrick Graham