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Should Delivery Startups Suspend Operations To Back Coronavirus Lockdown?

Should Delivery Startups Suspend Operations To Back Coronavirus Lockdown?

Food and grocery delivery companies have started contactless delivery

Delivery partners are using masks and sanitisers, but are unsure of its impact

The gig workers are unsure of their action plan, in case lockdown is announced

The ministry of consumer affairs has now directed ecommerce companies to maintain proper hygiene of all last-mile delivery processes to control the spread of coronavirus cases. “All ecommerce platforms are requested to ensure the maintenance of proper hygiene and sanitation of the last-mile delivery personnel, kitchen, parking areas and delivery vehicles,” the ministry said.

On its part, food and grocery delivery companies like Zomato, Swiggy, Grofers, BigBasket etc have been providing delivery-related instructions to customers, restaurants and delivery partners alike. However, how much of that is actually working remains questionable.

For instance, food delivery companies have started contactless delivery, wherein the food is delivered at the doorstep instead of customers directly taking the package from the partner. However, how much of that is being practised is unclear — delivery partners that Inc42 spoke to said that they haven’t done such deliveries yet, and Swiggy and Zomato are yet to enable an easy option to avail contactless deliveries. Some delivery partners also argued that it doesn’t make sense to deliver on the door, as the food needs to be respected.

On further discussion, delivery partners told us they have been advised to use masks and sanitisers, which they are doing but are unsure of the impact. At the same time, some said it is a matter of a few days and the coronavirus pandemic will end in summer. This theory has now been completely discarded by the World Health Organisation, which said that coronavirus can survive hot and humid temperatures too.

Delivery partners also seemed convinced about rumours such as coronavirus spreading due to consumption of non-vegetarian food. The misinformation which we had reported a few weeks ago continues to spread through delivery agents.

What About Kitchen Staff And Delivery Hygiene?

In terms of steps taken by these companies, food delivery companies have advised their delivery partners to sanitise their hands before picking up the food order, before delivering and after delivering etc. However, what if the food is contaminated in the kitchen? Zomato and Swiggy do not have any way to control the hygiene practices inside kitchens.

Speaking to us, a Swiggy customer service executive said that it is in touch with restaurants for updates on precautionary measures taken for food and packaging hygiene. Another delivery executive also told us that police is patrolling these restaurants in a bid to keep a check on the sanitisation measures. Further, grocery delivery companies are also counting on the implementation of sanitisation measures etc to ensure smooth operations.

In fact, with so many possible human touchpoints in a typical order, food delivery might not be the safest option. For one, there’s no guarantee that despite the steps taken by the platform or the restaurant that the delivery agent has not been infected while delivering a previous order.

Secondly, delivery agents come into contact with restaurant staff, who may or may not be infected. Within the restaurant, the packaging being handled could also be contaminated. And as coronavirus is known to survive on surfaces for a few hours to a few days, it’s not exactly right to say food deliveries are safe. With thousands of such delivery agents around each city, they become a clear vector of communication for the coronavirus.

So how long can the food companies keep running, if the future looks grim in terms of quarantine or self-isolation measures? Like Zomato and Swiggy, Dunzo and Urban Company are also currently operational with riders and service professionals completing tasks as usual.

No Slowdown In Deliveries

Aaqyl Chagla, CEO of Rapid Delivery, told Inc42, “With the recent updates received across our network, a lot of companies being shut is one aspect, which is causing a lot of parcels going undelivered. Essential commodities and hyperlocal deliveries have definitely seen an upward spike. Ecommerce also hasn’t slowed down in terms of its output.”

He further added that because of coronavirus and the new social distancing remedies to contain the virus, some residential complexes and societies are not allowing delivery agents to enter the premises.

Other food delivery partners told us that they haven’t planned in case a lockdown happens and will return to their homes away from the city if need be. However, they remained unaware of any contingency plans from Zomato or Swiggy to support them in case of loss of income.

While companies have talked about setting up funds and helping infected drivers/delivery partners, there has been no conversation about the ones who will lose their livelihoods due to lockdown.

The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) has asked its member restaurants to shut down all dine-in operations from March 18 due to coronavirus. NRAI, which has more than 5 Lakh members, confirmed that the several city-specific chapters have reached a consensus over the shutdown advisory.

However, the decision to shut down their business temporarily is voluntary and not mandatory. Even then, it is said to impact thousands of restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes across the country till March 31.