Amazon shutters NYC warehouse after worker catches coronavirus

News raises speculation that Amazon may close additional warehouses should more cases of the virus arise among staff.

Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in New York City, where a warehouse temporarily closed on Thursday after one of the online US retail giant's employees tested positive for coronavirus, which a new study said can live on cardboard boxes for up to 24 hours [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]

Amazon on Thursday said it was closing a small New York City warehouse temporarily after one of its associates tested positive for the coronavirus, a move that highlights the operational risk it faces as the disease spreads.

The company said it has sent associates home from the delivery station with full pay as it sanitises the facility, its first in the United States known to have a case of the virus.

“We are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine,” Amazon said in a statement. “We continue to serve customers while taking care of our associates and we’re following all guidelines from local officials about the operations of our buildings.”

The news raises the spectre of Amazon closing additional warehouses should more cases of the virus arise among staff. That would pose a significant hurdle to the world’s largest online retailer, already grappling with out-of-stock goods and slower-than-usual delivery.

Seattle-based Amazon said it has increased the cleaning of door handles, stair rails and other surfaces at its facilities. It has staggered shift times, spread out break room tables and asked drivers to keep their distance from customers when delivering orders.

That has not assuaged all workers’ fears of contagion. 

On Wednesday, more than 200 French workers staged a strike at an Amazon warehouse and shipping centre in Saran, outside of Paris, calling for the facility’s closure.

French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire backed the protestors on Thursday, saying that Amazon workers in France are coming under unacceptable pressure. 

“These pressures are unacceptable, we’ll let Amazon know,” Le Maire told France Inter radio station.

The French government has previously encouraged factory employees to keep working if possible and if sanitary conditions are adequate, but decried the way Amazon had handled the situation with its staff.

The coronavirus has led to at least 8,900 deaths globally, and Amazon employees elsewhere have contracted it. News of its spread to the US Amazon facility was earlier reported by The Atlantic.

A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found the virus detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. 

Amazon’s New York delivery station, in the borough of Queens, is less than a tenth the size of Amazon’s big fulfillment centers.

The company has said that it would take in only essential supplies at its US and United Kingdom and other European warehouses until April 5, to free up inventory space for these products. They include baby products, beauty and personal care items, pet supplies, books and industrial and scientific goods.

The retail giant said it will not stop selling non-essential items like phone cases and toys, but those products may be more likely to run out of stock in the next few weeks as a result.

Source: Reuters