Is it safe to accept parcel deliveries in the midst of a pandemic?


Spoiler alert: please just wash your hands.

So you’ve come to the conclusion that your WFH-haven could do with a throw cushion or two. You’ve spent the day trawling the interwebs and finally found a cute one complete with free delivery to seal the deal. Great! But recently acquired knowledge about germ-spreading and bacteria’s surface-life turns over in your mind. Is it safe?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that the essential services that remain open right now are religiously sterilising. They partake in government-mandated cleaning routines that include sprays, shields, masks and/or mandatory glove-wearing.

But if you’re not there to witness the wipe-downs, how can you be sure they’re going ahead? Such is the dilemma of online shopping during a pandemic. 

Not that this has stopped people from shopping online. In fact, we’re shopping so much that Australia Post is reporting unprecedented demand, and is continuing to test its 80,000-large workforce for the virus, to date reporting zero confirmed cases.

We might be shopping up a storm, but it seems like a lot of us are pretty worried about the parcels we’re receiving. According to Google, by late March the third-most searched “Can I get coronavirus from…?” question involved mail. 

Hmm. So how do I know if my online order has been processed safely? 

Protection policies for workers in each country differ but are focused on keeping sick people at home and keeping healthy workers socially-distanced, in protective gear, and regularly washing their hands. 

In Australia, we’ve seen the limiting of workplaces to 100 people, then 50 and then 10, but, where possible, staying home is what we’ve all got to do. 

But for workers processing our online orders, that’s not possible. Unilever factory workers in Shanghai are being made to wear masks and scan an individual QR code upon arrival and complete a health check. 

Airbus employees in the US have reportedly been divided into groups, with no more than half the total staff ever coming into contact with each other. Some factories across the US have even rolled out ‘buzzing wristbands’ that notify employees when they’re too close together.

Some brands have provided lengthy explanations on just how, where, and with what level of security their workers are packing orders in. 

But for that niche fashion brand based in Denmark who sends via DHL, there’s no real way of knowing how your order is being handled. You can look up the country’s regulations for businesses, but whether they’re being followed is uncertain. 

And we all know one person who’s flouted the lockdown rules, so it wouldn’t be surprising if this is occasionally happening on a parcel processing level.

Okay, that’s both reassuring and not reassuring. What’s the deal if my parcel comes from a high-incidence zone?

Having established that – for the most part – we can’t really be certain about whether our order is being handled in a sterile way, there are some extra steps we can take to keep ourselves safe. Firstly, consider the material you’ve received and how long it took to arrive.

The CDC says that its unlikely clothing can carry the virus unless someone entirely evil intentionally covered the item in germs, and that item then arrived very quickly to you.

So delayed postage times could have an upside – given that the virus has a surface life of only 72 hours on plastics and other hard surfaces and that for porous ones like cardboard and fabrics it’s even less.

So unless you’ve scored a next day delivery from overseas, it’s unlikely your purchase will be carrying coronavirus. 

What about posties? 

When considering the ethics of non-essential purchasing, it’s also important to consider the risk posed to delivery people and couriers, who continue to work as normal.

As in all essential sectors, the precautions taken by these companies are sweeping – currently, Australia Post delivers only every two days in metropolitan areas, with most posties working alone and wearing protective gear.

Australia Post still stresses that it’s essential we keep as far away from the delivery person as possible, something that’s made easier by many delivery companies deciding to forego a signature on a tablet for deliveries.

This advice could also be combined with a quick wipe-down of your delivery, and, as always, a thorough hand-washing after you’ve thrown out the packaging.

If you’re buying something second-hand or vintage, the risk might be higher, but as usual, take all the necessary steps to keep you (and your hands) clean, and be extra careful.

According to the University of Sydney’s Associate Professor in Medicine, Dr. Euan Tovey, at the end of the day, the risk is never zero, but you’d lose your mind thinking about every possible germ on every surface of your home, so be careful, but please, stay sane.

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