Coronavirus: How safe are your deliveries?

Risk of spread via parcels and packages is low, but here's how to play it safe

FILE PHOTO: A worker assembles a box for delivery at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

If you’re currently being stringent about self-isolating, then it’s likely you are relying on delivery services to bring you food, groceries and other goods. You may be indulging in a spot of online shopping to keep your spirits up, relying on apps like Instashop to stock up on essentials, or calling on food delivery services to add a little variety to your daily meals.

'Very low risk of spread from packaging'

The good news is that the risk of catching the virus from an object that has been moved multiple times, travelled over the course of a few days and been exposed to varying conditions and temperatures, is low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States: “There is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures…. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods.”

Erring on the side of caution

Nonetheless, it is always best to err on the side of caution. It is believed that Covid-19 can survive on plastic or steel for 72 hours and on more porous surfaces, such as cardboard, for about 24 hours, although it becomes increasingly less infectious over this period. For more details on how long the virus can survive on various surfaces and hands, see our story here. 

This means any potential risk of a parcel received in a cardboard box is removed within a day. So one course of action is to refrain from unboxing non-essential items - those books from Amazon or clothes from Asos - for 24 hours. It might even help increase the anticipation of those new buys.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 21 APRIL 2016. A bike safety campaign called Safety Delivered where delivery drivers were asked who were important in their lives, and were given helmets with pictures of their family and words such “I am a son” and “I am a father”. The aim is to remind the drivers that they have people counting on them to be safe while they are out on the road. Sajjad Hussein (front) and Ahsan Akhbar (Back) both from Pakistan ride  with their helmets and delivery bikes. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) ID: 44814. Journalist: Ramona Ruiz. Section: National. *** Local Caption ***  AR_2104_Delivery_Bike_Safety-17.JPG

Wash hands after handling

If you can't wait, try to get rid of any outer packaging outside your home – throw it straight into your apartment building rubbish chute, or in the bins outside your villa. Wash your hands immediately (and for at least 20 seconds - you know the score) after handling anything new. Once you have unwrapped or unboxed your items, wash them off or wipe them down with a disinfectant. See our guide to safely handing fruit, vegetables and meat here.

If you want to be extra stringent, handle all deliveries while wearing protective gloves and then dispose of them and wash your hands.

Certainly, whoever is handing you the package should be wearing protective gloves, and you should not make direct contact with that person. Make all your payments online, so you are not handling cash or handing over your card to anyone - not even to use the “tap” function. Most importantly, make sure to be respectful - these essential workers are a lifeline at the moment and deserve our appreciation.

Ask questions

A number of food delivery services in the UAE, including McDonalds, have initiated contactless delivery options - the premise being that they will leave your food package on a clean surface (such as a table or a platform) outside your door, take a photo of it and then send it to you. But if you are uncomfortable with the way you see any of your packages and food being handled, say so and send them back - again, just do it respectfully.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the safety protocol of the companies you are dealing with - and favour those that are transparent about how they are reacting to the current situation. UAE online retailer Ounass has this to say about its own processes: “Our response team has enforced stringent measures at every step of the order and delivery process, through enhanced hygiene protocols... Our vans are fully cleaned inside and out in an intensive day process. Drivers are equipped with disinfectants and face masks, and wear protective gloves when handing any order. All orders are housed with us and dispatched directly from Dubai. Every order is cleaned upon arrival until its reaches you, and your products are handed only with protective gloves.”

Amazon has also offered a detailed breakdown of the safety measures it has put into place. “With guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation, we’ve implemented a series of preventative health measures at our sites around the word to keep our employees, partners and customers safe,” the company says.