Delivery workers risk Covid-19 infection trying to earn a buck

By Phan Diep, Pham Nga, Hai Hien   April 3, 2020 | 09:15 am GMT+7

As many stores shift operations online to help contain Covid-19, delivery staff face the peril of infection while trying to make a living.

No-one picked up the phone after several calls, with Tran Van Nghia thinking he would have to return with the food. Suddenly, a rope tangled down from the second floor.

"I am sorry it took so long to find the rope. Can you attach the package to it?" Nghia was asked by the customer.

He suddenly thought about his wife and children, in close contact with him daily.

"If customers are that careful, how about my family? Will I accidentally infect them?" he told himself before responding to another order.

Since, to avoid close contact, the 40-year-old now steps away from customers retrieving deliveries from his bag.

Employed at Bac Thang Long Industrial Zone for three years, Nghia spends his evenings and weekends offering ride shares, earning up to VND 9 million ($384) a month.

However, since the novel coronavirus hit Hanoi, he earns less than VND100,000 ($4.3) per day.

"We gathered at crossroads or near residential buildings but receive no customers. Since the beginning of this month, I have worked as a food delivery person," Nghia said, adding he preferred night orders since customers were generous at tipping.

A delivery man waits to deliver a customer’s food from a restaurant on Hanoi’s Com Vong Street. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

A delivery man waits to deliver a customer’s food from a restaurant on Hanoi’s Com Vong Street. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

Since March 26, the capital has required "non-essential" stores to shut down amid the pandemic. Without clients, delivery people have become saviors.

That was when Nghia received an order to deliver food and got a response from the client, who asked him to tie the food package onto a rope from the second floor.

"It is reasonable that they are careful, but delivery staff like me have no choice. No work means no money. We do not come into close contact with customers, but still handle the cash - the risks are here to stay," he lamented.

On his daily rounds, Nghia uses a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer to protect himself from the deadly virus.

A tricky delivery as both handler and receiver try to avoid contact. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

A tricky delivery as both handler and receiver try to avoid contact. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

With the pandemic getting worse in Hanoi, many delivery personnel are now more careful when choosing their routes.

Receiving phone calls from a loyal customer near Bach Mai Hospital, Nguyen Van Hung did his best to ignore them, but failed.

The hospital is now the nation’s largest infection hotspot. The number of patients linking to Bach Mai has increased to 43, of whom 27 are employees at the Truong Sinh Company, the food and logistic services provider to Bach Mai.

On the other end of the line, the woman told him she needed to send out medicine to some clients but could not find anyone to execute delivery. Hung, 29, put on his gloves, mask and helmet, and rushed to help his loyal patron.

In the last few days, Hung has rejected all customers living within 2 kilometers from the hospital, now a Covid-19 hotspot.

"Previously, their phone calls made me happy, now it is difficult to dismiss them," he maintained.

Phuong Mai Street, situated near Bach Mai Hospital, has become deserted as local shops and restaurants closed.

"These days, most people I meet are colleagues, wearing red, yellow or blue shirts. But I hardly see them around Bach Mai," he said, speaking about other delivery staff.

Since the beginning of March, many have given up on ride-sharing services, forcing drivers to work as delivery personnel.

Hung estimated his earnings would decrease by more than 30 percent this month, while his family back in his hometown kept telling him to quit. Hung, sole breadwinner, knows he could not stop working now.

Hung and his colleagues now work around the clock to meet the increasing demand for food delivery.

He had 15 orders on March 26, and the following day too many he failed to deliver all.

The busier he is, the more he earns, but the greater his health concerns.

Hung doesn’t when he will be listed F (those having contact with suspected infections) in future.

At a restaurants on Saigon’s Ung Van Khiem Street, delivery men are asked to keep their distance while waiting for food on March 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Mong Diep.

At a restaurants on Saigon’s Ung Van Khiem Street, delivery men are asked to keep their distance while waiting for food on March 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Mong Diep.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen Van Thanh faced another challenge as many local restaurants have ceased online operations.

During lunchtime, he usually has no customers, responding to a desperate message only to find out the restaurant in question had failed to cancel its online ordering service.

"Previously, I did not dare turn on the application during lunchtime. Now, no order for hours," said Thanh, who sometimes delivers up to six orders at lunchtime.

He works in a location with a lot of universities and student dormitories. Currently, with all schooling halted for months and many students back in their hometowns, his number of orders has decreased by 50 percent.

Many customers have also requested him to leave their orders in front of the entrance gate or use ropes to handle cash.

After a while, Thanh finally had a new order. The restaurant was 700 meters away, but his customer was 5 kilometers away, meaning he had to travel 10 kilometers to earn VND24,000 ($1.1) in shipping fees.

"It is fine, better than nothing," he said with a sigh.

As of Friday morning, Covid-19 tally in Vietnam had risen to 233, of whom 75 have been discharged after recovery.

Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 53,000 people as it spread to 294 countries and territories so far.

 
 
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