The UK government has relaxed trading laws and competition regulations in an attempt to allow supermarkets to work together during the outbreak of Covid-19.

Elements of competition laws are being temporarily relaxed to encourage supermarkets to collaborate and share resources to ensure that the public has access to essential food and goods amid the coronavirus outbreak.

As part of a package of measures, retailers are now able to share data with each other on stock levels, cooperate to keep shops open, or share distribution depots and delivery vans.

The move also allows retailers to pool staff with one another to help meet demand.

Other laws that have been temporarily lifted include rules around drivers’ hours to allow them to meet increased demand for deliveries, as well as lifting the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases to speed up deliveries and minimise cross-contamination from delivery crates.

The support for supermarkets comes as the government and retailers continue to urge people to shop considerately and look out for their friends, family and neighbours.

“By relaxing elements of competition laws temporarily, our retailers can work together on their contingency plans and share the resources they need with each other during these unprecedented circumstances,” said Environment Secretary George Eustice. 

“We welcome the measures supermarkets are already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “In these extraordinary and challenging times it is important that we remove barriers to our supermarkets working together to serve customers, particularly those who are elderly, ill or vulnerable in all parts of the UK.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, added: “We welcome this important decision by the government to give retailers greater flexibility to work together to tackle the challenges posed by coronavirus.

“Retailers have been working hard to ensure shelves are stocked and this is an exceptional step taken by government to help retailers and their suppliers cope with problems that might be caused by wide-scale absences across the supply chain.”