March 24, 2020 / 7:39 PM / 9 days ago

U.S. antitrust agencies pledge quick action for anti-COVID-19 efforts

A man wearing a protective mask walks alone across a nearly empty Park Avenue near Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The two U.S. federal antitrust enforcers said on Tuesday that they would move quickly to approve collaborations that businesses, including hospital systems, put together to address rapidly growing public health concerns raised by the coronavirus.

The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and Federal Trade Commission, both of which enforce U.S. antitrust law, said in a joint statement that they would respond to proposed collaborations within seven days.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has compelled governments to take unusual efforts to stop the disease, treat the thousands of people who have fallen ill and slow the rapidly growing economic damage.

“Health care facilities may need to work together in providing resources and services to communities without immediate access to personal protective equipment, medical supplies, or health care,” the agencies said in their statement. “Other businesses may need to temporarily combine production, distribution, or service networks to facilitate production and distribution of COVID-19-related supplies they may not have traditionally manufactured or distributed.”

These kinds of collaborations could be a “necessary response to exigent circumstances,” the agencies said in a joint statement.

The pandemic has killed more than 580 people in the United States and sickened more than 46,160, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order about 100 million people - nearly a third of the nation’s population - to stay at home.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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