Online shopping seems less safe as workers get sick

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Online shopping seems less safe as workers get sick

Workers head to Market Kurly’s distribution center in Songpa District in southern Seoul to disinfect the center after an employee who worked there on May 24 was confirmed to be a coronavirus patient on Wednesday. [NEWS1]

Workers head to Market Kurly’s distribution center in Songpa District in southern Seoul to disinfect the center after an employee who worked there on May 24 was confirmed to be a coronavirus patient on Wednesday. [NEWS1]

 
Coronavirus infections linked to e-commerce distribution centers are scaring people away from online shopping — which for the past few weeks seemed like the safer alternative to shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.
 
Since the first coronavirus patient was confirmed at a Coupang distribution center on May 23, the number of infections linked to that distribution center jumped to 36 as of Wednesday morning. Market Kurly on Wednesday confirmed that a day laborer who worked at its distribution center in Songpa District in southern Seoul has tested positive. The patient worked at a center handling room-temperature products on May 24. Around 300 employees are estimated to have had contact with the worker.
 
Last week, a "picker" — or an employee who fulfills orders for online customers — at a BGF Retail distribution center in Gimpo, Gyeonggi, was confirmed to be infected with the virus. Around 100 people work at the distribution center, and BGF Retail didn’t see any more virus cases.
 
But concerns are mounting among online shoppers, and some mothers worry their children might contract the virus by handling packages.  
 
“I sprayed ethanol on the box and all the products delivered. Regardless, I feel anxious,” wrote one netizen living in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Naver’s community website for moms.  
 
“I ordered disposable masks for my child on Coupang, but the coronavirus outbreak appears to be a big deal," wrote another. "I feel anxious, should I cancel the order?”
 
One of the comments on the post reads, “I said goodbye to Rocket Wow for a while.”
 
Rocket Wow refers to Coupang’s membership service.  
 
Ensuring the health of workers at distribution centers is difficult because there's so much turnover of part-timers, according to Yoo Cheol-hyeon, a spokesperson for BGF Retail. “That is especially true if there are a large number of people working at a distribution center. Even if there is a thermal imaging camera, a patient without signs of symptoms can pass through and work at the center.”
 
Since one of its pickers was confirmed with the virus, BGF Retail said it doubled the number of sanitizers at its distribution centers and adjusted the locations of ashtrays so people are dispersed when they smoke. SSG.com disinfected delivery vehicles once a day, but now disinfects them twice a day — in the morning and in the afternoon.
 
“The impact of the coronavirus infections among distribution center workers won’t be big enough to affect online sales because people still feel safer purchasing online,” said Park Jeong-eun, who teaches business at Ewha Womans University. “The 'untact' culture will foster the automation of distribution centers. Online shopping and the recent coronavirus cases linked to distribution centers should be viewed separately.”
 
BY JIN MIN-JI   [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]
 

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