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While the government is keen on reinstating ecommerce services after April 20, a recent turn of events has raised questions about any potential allowance extended to deliveries of essentials such as food and grocery.
On Tuesday, reports said a delivery agent for a South Delhi-based restaurant had tested positive for Covid-19. The restaurant, whose name has not been disclosed, had delivered orders placed on Zomato. It is worth mentioning that besides its own delivery partners, some orders on Zomato are fulfilled by restaurants themselves with their own delivery fleet.
Zomato acknowledged the fact that the rider had delivered some orders placed on Zomato to users residing in Malviya Nagar. As a result, around 72 families have been quarantined by the law enforcement agencies, according to BM Mishra, district magistrate of South Delhi.
The delivery partner is said to have been working with a renowned pizza chain in South Delhi which has been shut temporarily. Currently, the rider is undergoing treatment at a hospital while authorities are monitoring others who came in contact with him on a daily basis, according to Zomato’s tweet.
Further, 16 other employees of the restaurant were also tested but were found to be negative for Covid-19.
Zomato And Swiggy’s Inconsistent Steps
In the wake of the virus outbreak, food delivery companies like Zomato and Swiggy are said to be taking a slew of measures to keep customers and riders safe. They claim that restaurants are performing temperature checks of delivery partners while hand sanitizers are available at their pickup points for riders.
Zomato said that the restaurant, whose rider has been tested positive, had also instructed riders to wear masks besides taking strict hygiene measures. So, even after taking these measures, if a rider has contracted coronavirus, then there are more serious questions to ponder.
To start with, only a few restaurants, following healthy practices in their kitchens, are listed in separate categories on Swiggy and Zomato. But what about restaurants which are not following these practices? The same delivery partner may visit both types of restaurants, so there seems to be no point in segregating these restaurants in two different categories.
In this particular case, since the name of the restaurant is not disclosed, Inc42 cannot independently verify whether it was following any particular safety measures, if at all. However, a cursory glance at the restaurant listings clearly shows the disparity in the implementation of these measures.
In response to Inc42‘s questions about the inconsistent implementation of safety norms in restaurants, a Zomato’s spokesperson said over 50K restaurants, that have already setup sanitization stations for delivery partners, cover the majority of current order volume. “Apart from self-hygiene practices undertaken, our delivery partners are also asked to sanitize their hands after every few minutes. We are hoping that a large base of our restaurant partners will also start checking the temperature of the delivery partner by next week. We will continue introducing more such layers of protection to ensure safety of food,” the spokesperson added.
Zomato said that it is taking every step to ensure that customers, delivery partners and restaurant partners are safe. If that’s the case, then why are restaurants allowed to sell food on the platform even if they have not complied with the norms or are not following healthy practices? It should be Zomato and Swiggy’s responsibility to limit such restaurants since even their delivery partners and other vendors are exposed to such restaurants. In fact, this should be a mandatory requirement for all kitchens, within restaurants or cloud kitchens.
The Danger In Grocery Delivery
Moreover, Zomato and Swiggy have recently started delivering groceries which are being delivered by the same riders delivering food orders. With increased numbers of orders, these riders are exposing themselves to more people, thereby increasing the risk. Also, updates on what safety and hygiene practices are followed at the grocery stores are missing on the applications.
Zomato said in its official response that Covid-19 can happen to everyone. Indeed, it can happen to anyone but it can spread even quickly if proper measures are not taken timely, especially when they are applied inconsistently as is the case for food or grocery orders or even between restaurants.
Delivery riders are risking their lives to provide essentials. So safety and protection is a big responsibility and a moral duty for Swiggy and Zomato as well as the likes of Dunzo, BigBasket, Grofers and others that have been allowed to operate. If essential services themselves haven’t done everything to protect themselves, any claims would only sound hollow.
Will Ecommerce Reboot Come Undone?
In the first phase of the lockdown, the government had imposed severe restrictions on the operations of ecommerce companies by allowing only the delivery of essential products. But going into the second phases, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has now brought fresh guidelines permitting the delivery of non-essentials after April 20, if certain zones and pockets have no new cases. This would be approved selectively after careful monitoring of the Covid-19 data.
But given that plenty of people have been known to be asymptomatic, there is definitely a certain risk involved. And cases like the one in Delhi — even though it was only enabled by Zomato and not completely fulfilled — do bring into question the preparedness of ecommerce platforms.
Given India’s appetite for ecommerce shopping, opening up deliveries of non-essential could bring a huge spike in the number of orders. It’s expected to be a big feast after weeks of living on a restricted diet. This should be cause for concern for the regulatory and healthcare authorities.
Should the government put in place rules to ensure safety measures are followed strictly or should ecommerce orders be opened in a drip method instead of full-scale operations? These are questions the regulatory bodies, the home ministry and commerce ministry need to ask themselves and the sooner there’s clarity on these matters, the faster India can flatten the curve.