11 firms being investigated for price gouging in coronavirus crisis

Eleven firms are being investigated for selling products such as face masks and hand sanitisers at inflated prices amid the Covid-19 crisis, Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has announced. 

Patel was speaking at a briefing media in Pretoria, where a number of ministers from the country's economic cluster outlined interventions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

This comes in the wake of President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday announcing a 21-day a nationwide lockdown - starting in the early hours of Friday morning - in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus. The number of confirmed infections in SA rose to 554 on Tuesday.

Last week government announced strict regulations to prevent businesses from hiking prices excessively for certain products – such as basic foods, personal care and hygiene products, as well as key medical supplies like surgical masks and gloves.

Patel told journalists on Tuesday that government had received complaints of firms and individuals flouting regulations by "increasing prices unjustifiably". He did not name the firms. 

He said the Competition Commission and the National Consumer Commission met on Monday, and are investigating 11 firms.

"[The firms] have been found to be selling products like face masks, hand sanitisers and others for high prices, and abusing the situation. More firms are now being investigated and prosecutions will follow," he said. Penalties for flouting the regulations include fines of R1 million, fines of up to 10% of a company's turnover, or one year in jail. 

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