Business / Corporate

Japan delivery services go 'zero contact' in age of new coronavirus

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Delivery service firms across the nation are implementing a raft of measures to mitigate the risk of infections amid the coronavirus scare as customers grow increasingly concerned that face-to-face package transfers may leave them prone to infection.

The delivery industry’s apparent high-risk nature was highlighted by Sagawa Express Co.’s announcement Monday that one of its drivers — a male employee in his 60s working in the Nagoya area — tested positive Sunday night for COVID-19. The firm said it is investigating customers who may have come into “close contact” with him so appropriate steps can be taken.

Delivery giant Yamato Transport Co. said last week that amid the rapid spread of the virus nationwide, it will temporarily introduce a drop-off system that allows customers the option of receiving a package without coming into the proximity of drivers.

Under the initiative, a customer can ask the Yamato driver through their home intercom to leave parcels at the spot of their choice outside the door. Customers will not need to sign a receipt, the firm said. The option will be available until the end of March.

“We have decided to take this measure because we received some requests from our customers that they want to avoid face-to-face interaction with drivers as much as possible,” Yamato spokesman Takafumi Nakagawa said.

The firms’ moves toward infection prevention also come as a growing number of consumers are confining themselves at home and using delivery services to avoid exposure to the virus.

Domino’s Pizza Japan launched a system similar to Yamato on Friday, enabling customers to receive their orders in a “zero-contact” manner.

The delivery person will first set down an empty box at the customer’s place of choosing and then place the regular pizza box, in a plastic bag, on top of it. This is to prevent placing the product directly on the ground.

After notifying the customer by intercom or other means that the delivery has been completed, the driver will “step away at least 2 meters from your front door or designated location, and confirm that you received your product(s),” the firm says on its website.

Sagawa, meanwhile, has suspended a digital signature system that uses drivers’ smartphones lest the practice facilitate transmission of the virus.

Noting that the digital signature system necessitates one smartphone being used by a number of different customers each day, Sagawa spokesman Yuki Yamada said the firm “wanted to prevent the risk of our customers getting infected, as well as to minimize such risks for our employees.”

Contacted by The Japan Times, an Uber Japan spokeswoman, who declined to be named per company policy, said the firm is asking Uber Eats drivers to only follow guidelines designated by the health ministry, such as washing their hands regularly and observing “coughing etiquette” recommended by the ministry.

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