The Italian Competition Authority approves a distribution scheme allowing disposable surgical masks to be sold in pharmacies and health retail outlets as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic

On 1 June 2020, the Italian competition authority (“L’Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato”) authorised a scheme that would allow disposable surgical masks to be distributed and sold in pharmacies and health product retail outlets (see, attached press release). It did so at the request of the two principal Italian associations of pharmaceutical wholesalers.

Under the scheme, the wholesalers and associations of pharmacists and health product retailers acquire the masks in a joint procurement procedure. The masks are then allocated among the wholesalers at a uniform price per unit that was agreed upon with the suppliers. The scheme will last until 30 June 2020.

The competition authority approved the scheme because it solves an urgent and wide-ranging health problem and is limited in time. It thus applied for the first time the principles of its guidance of 22 April 2020 regarding cooperation agreements designed to ensure the distribution of scarce essential goods and services, including health products and food.

The competition authority’s approach is in line with the views expressed by the European Commission and competition authorities around Europe to address the problems resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic (see e.g., Van Bael & Bellis Life Sciences News Alert of 9 April 2020 and of 26 May 2020). Not coincidentally, the competition authority indicates that it obtained counsel from the European Commission.

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Koen T'Syen, Peter L'Ecluse, Catherine Longeval, The Italian Competition Authority approves a distribution scheme allowing disposable surgical masks to be sold in pharmacies and health retail outlets as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 June 2020, e-Competitions July 2020, Art. N° 95307

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