Amazon confirms Covid-19 case in US warehouse

Some workers in Europe have also tested positive, as the online retailer balances delivering supplies with public safety

A truck driver wearing a protective face mask arrives at the Amazon logistics center in Lauwin-Planque, northern France, March 19, 2020. Several hundred employees protested in France, calling on the U.S. e-commerce giant to halt operations or make it easier for employees to stay away during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
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Amazon confirmed an employee working at one of its shipping facilities in New York has tested positive for Covid-19, the first infection reported in its US delivery network.

"We are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine," an Amazon spokesperson told The National. "In addition to our enhanced daily deep cleaning, we've temporarily closed the Queens delivery station for additional sanitation and have sent associates home with full pay."

The confirmed case, reported by The Atlantic, is the first among the company's warehouse employees in the US. Two office workers at Amazon's Seattle headquarters have also tested positive.

At least five workers at Amazon warehouses in Spain and Italy, two countries hard-hit by the spreading disease, have also contracted the virus. The company opted to keep the facilities open, prompting criticism from labour unions.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday that the pressures faced by Amazon's staff in France are "unacceptable". Several hundred employees protested in the country on Wednesday, complaining that they face non-payment if they stop work due to coronavirus fears and calling on Amazon to halt operations.

The online retailer finds itself between a rock and a hard place, as it tries to balance delivering essential supplies to homebound communities around the world with the health and safety of employees, contractors and the wider public.

“The health and safety of our employees and contractors around the world continues to be our top priority,” Amazon said in the statement. “As communities around the world are requiring social distancing, we’re seeing that our teams – much like grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential services – have a unique role getting customers the critical items they need and this is especially vital for the elderly, people with underlying health issues, and those sick or quarantined.”

On Monday, the retailer said on its blog it would be hiring 100,000 workers to keep up with demand. It is also boosting pay by $2 (Dh7.25) per hour in the US, C$2 (Dh5) in Canada, £2 (Dh8.50) in the UK and approximately €2 (Dh7.75) in many European Union countries until the end of April – a combined investment of over $350 million.

This week, the company also said it would temporarily prioritise household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into its fulfilment centres, where thousands of employees work with robots to pack and ship orders.

Measures to protect employees include “increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance, and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries”, Amazon said.

The e-commerce company set up a $25m relief fund to pay workers for up to two weeks if they are diagnosed with Covid-19 or placed into quarantine.

As of March 12, Amazon advised any global employees working in a role that can be done from home, to do so until the end of the month. Amazon employees in the UAE are working from home, with the exception of delivery and fulfilment centre workers, an Amazon spokesperson in Dubai confirmed.

Covid-19 has infected close to 220,000 people with nearly 9,000 deaths. More than 84,000 have recovered.