Delivery Workers as Lifeline

Wuhan, the epi-center of the coronavirus outbreak in China, has been in lockdown mode for weeks. But its delivery workers, zipping through empty streets on their motorcycles and scooters, are still very much on the move.

To avoid transmission of the virus, people have been told to stay at home and limit time outdoors. As a result, when they need food or other necessities, many of them turn to delivery workers, who put themselves at risk of exposure to the virus by interacting with dozens of customers, some of whom are sick, and handling multiple packages a day.

The food deliveries include fresh fruit and vegetables, dry goods like instant noodles and some treats, too — like waffles.

In addition, hospitals are depending on the couriers to bring medical supplies.

Delivery companies are struggling to keep up. In a press conference in February, the department of commerce director of Hubei province, Qin Jun, said that in a single day, e-commerce companies received 22,000 orders in the province and delivered 1,337 tons of necessities. JD Logistics, one of the country’s largest courier companies, says they are looking to hire 20,000 warehouse workers, couriers and drivers to help with deliveries during the outbreak. JD hires men and women, and a recent ad said it pays between $721 to $1,400 a month.

A prize-winning international photojournalist who lives in Wuhan has captured scenes of the couriers in action. The photographer asked not to be named because of concerns of being targeted by the government.

Asked how the couriers manage to keep up their grueling schedule — they typically work 8 to 12 hour days — he wrote in an email to NPR: “Couriers are ants. Nothing can stop them.”

A courier uses alcohol to disinfect packages in order to prevent any potential coronavirus pathogens from spreading to themselves and customers.Stringer/for NPR

A courier gets his temperature checked. In Wuhan, individuals are required to get it checked twice a day.Stringer/for NPR

A courier with a scooter full of packages.Stringer/for NPR

A delivery worker makes a phone call. Usually, couriers deliver packages right to a customer’s door, according to Ling Cao, a representative from JD Logistics, one of China’s largest delivery companies. But to avoid unnecessary contact, couriers have been calling their customers to let them know their package is ready for pickup — or leaving them in lockers or special pick-up zones.Stringer/for NPR

A worker with an empty cart on his scooter checks his phone.Stringer/for NPR

A courier in protective clothing on his scooter. Companies like JD Logistics have been providing masks, protective goggles, gloves and disinfectants to employees. Those who deliver to hospitals are given hazmat suits.Stringer/for NPR

A worker in protective clothing with a package. In addition to encouraging couriers to wear this gear, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has published a guide for the deliverymen, encouraging them to wash their hands and disinfect themselves before going home.Stringer/for NPR

A courier in protective gear on his motorcycle.Stringer/for NPR

A courier at dusk. According to Chinese state media, people have mixed feelings about the couriers. Some feel grateful to them for providing supplies during this time of crisis. Others are afraid the workers may transmit the virus because they’re traveling to a lot of places in the city and touching many packages a day.