On Monday, amidst an increasing number of new community-transmitted COVID-19 cases in Ho Chi Minh City, local authorities announced the resumption of delivery services in high-risk areas, including Thu Duc, District 12 and Go Vap. The city’s Department of Industry and Trade vowed to test shippers for free every day, to ensure they are free from the coronavirus as they hand essential goods to customers who’ve been under a 24/7 curfew since last week.
HCMC is setting up 414 mobile medical stations in 21 districts and in Thu Duc City, and drivers in high-risk areas will have to be quick-tested every single afternoon. Drivers in other districts, meanwhile, will be tested every two days.
All shippers are still restricted to operate in only one district.
But while people understand the important role shippers play in delivering goods at a time when no one is allowed to go out even for a quick trip to the supermarket, there are debates on the safety of the thousands of drivers and shippers moving around districts — from contracting the virus to transmitting it to customers.
The risks that come with delivery services
District 7 resident Trang ordered four kilos of meat and vegetables from an online seller. While she paid for the goods via bank transfer, she still had to pick up her order from the shipper at the entrance of her apartment building.
“The security guard manning the entry point sprayed alcohol on the paper bag, but I still can’t help but think the virus may have stuck in the surface of the bag, and I’d get infected. Receiving deliveries is risky, but I think it’s a safer choice than going to the supermarket myself,” she said.
Many others like Trang are now using mobile payment platforms or bank transfers to pay for the goods they order online. But “contactless” transactions are never fully implemented because customers still have to physically get their orders from shippers. While there’s no evidence of the packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19, the people carrying them can be bearers of the virus.
Allowing shipment and deliveries to resume across Ho Chi Minh City (and in any other hard-hit localities) poses hazards. Shippers, who travel around their district and handing orders at various locations, are at high risk of contracting and transmitting the coronavirus.
Also considering the whole supply chain involved in bringing goods to one’s doorsteps — from the seller who packs the goods to the warehouse operators that segregate orders and shippers delivering them — the chances of passing on the virus are high.
The Vietnamese government has repeatedly called on e-commerce and logistics companies to comply with social distancing rules while in operation, and to add disinfecting strategies to every package and every shipper that comes in and out.
To guarantee customers' safety is to prioritize shippers’ health
Ninja Van, one of Vietnam’s largest logistics companies which services Lazada, Sendo and Tiki, has been implementing “3 on the spot” since the outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City worsened. Its network of warehouses and delivery centers have been turned into temporary homes where employees eat, rest and work, to ensure that they’re health and safety are prioritized, and to continue its operations in delivering parcels across the country.
“Ninja Van has set up a number of backup storage facilities to maintain a good percentage of success in parcel processing and delivery. Because government policy looks to be highly unpredictable, any region in which our warehouse is located could turn ‘red’ at any time. We must ensure that the pandemic response strategy is maintained, so that parcels can be delivered at a slower rate than usual, particularly in some ‘green’ areas, our logistical operations should continue as usual,” explained Christine Dung Nguyen, Marketing Communications Consultant at Ninja Van.
About 90% of its shippers and staff in HCMC and Hanoi have been vaccinated with at least one dose. Ninja Van has more than 6000 riders and 4500 employees nationwide.
Ninja Van also supports daily free COVID-19 testing for its shippers to ensure they are negative from the virus and are healthy to continue delivering goods.
E-commerce giant Shopee, which has seen a huge jump in sales as people now rely solely on online shopping, has also expressed commitment to the safety and wellbeing of its partners, sellers and users. Following the latest restrictions, it’s working closely with stakeholders to ensure that all of its employees are strictly adhering to the rules and regulations.
While it remains operational and users can place orders and access other services such as mobile top up, purchase of data packages and bill payments, the platform has suspended deliveries until September 6, or when the lockdown measures are lifted.
“To protect the well-being and safety of our customers, warehouse staff and delivery riders, we have implemented various precautionary measures including contactless delivery,” said a representative from Shopee Vietnam.
"We will provide regular updates on the latest advisories and order status to sellers and buyers through in-app push notifications, along with other user support channels. We are also working closely with our brands and sellers to ensure they have the necessary support. In addition to providing guidelines on customer service and inventory management, Shopee also provides the necessary in-app visibility, making it easy for sellers to notify customers of their activity status.”
Free COVID-19 jabs for shippers
Early this month, HCMC authorities started including shippers in its vaccination priority groups. The municipal Department of Industry and Trade requested the health ministry to give priority to the city’s more than 60,000 shippers.
Food delivery platform Baemin is one of the many companies relying on the government’s vaccination drive. As its management aggressively works with local authorities to register all its shippers for vaccination, Baemin has temporarily suspended operations in areas implementing strict social distancing, including Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang to “protect riders and customers.”
“We’ve managed to support a large number of rider-partners to get vaccinated and we will follow up closely in the days to come,” shared an official representative from Baemin.
As of this writing, at least 17 million people — including shippers — have been vaccinated, 2.4 million of whom have gotten the required two doses. Ho Chi Minh City, which accounts for the majority of the cases in the fourth wave, also tops the list in the number of vaccines distributed. The city already inoculated at least seven million people.
Vietnam has so far received shipment of 27.6 million doses of different vaccines from government deals with pharmaceutical firms, World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative and donations by foreign governments.