Since being placed under lockdown on Monday 23 March, many people in the UK have had to acclimatise to spending the majority of their days cooped up in their homes.
Adapting to this temporary way of life has meant having to give up most of our everyday activities, such as going to the pub, hanging out with friends and going shopping.
While online shopping is already a significant aspect of our lives, it has gained increasing importance during the coronavirus pandemic, with many people relying on online deliveries for their groceries, household essentials and luxury items such as new clothes.
But, considering how much we have yet to learn about Covid-19, some have questioned whether it is safe to receive packages at your home.
So is it safe to accept deliveries at your front door?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that it is currently “not certain” how long the coronavirus can survive on different surfaces.
However, the virus appears to “behave like other coronaviruses”, with research suggesting that coronaviruses are likely to remain on surfaces for between several hours to a few days.
While surfaces that have come into contact with the coronavirus may remain contaminated for a short amount of time, the WHO says that the “likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low”.
Furthermore, according to the organisation, “the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low”.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine tested how long the coronavirus can last on different types of surfaces within a laboratory.
The study concluded that the virus “can remain viable” on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and steel for up to three days.
Despite the study’s findings, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US states that transmission of Covid-19 to individuals from contaminated surfaces “has not been documented”.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) concurs with this point, saying that Covid-19 is “not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging”.
Public Health England states in a blog post that if a surface has come into contact with a virus, the degree to which it has been contaminated “is likely to have decreased significantly by 24 hours, and even more so by 48 hours”.
On the website for the Royal Mail, the company says that it is committing to “providing the best delivery service for you and protect the health of our people and our customers” throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The firm explains that it has reduced the amount of contact that is made between customers and delivery workers, such as by not asking the recipients of packages to provide their signatures on hand-held devices in addition to ensuring staff members following good hygiene practices.
Shane O’Riordain, managing director of marketing, regulation and corporate affairs at the Royal Mail, tells The Independent that the company is continuing to “follow the guidance of public health authorities”.
“Public Health England guidance says there are no additional precautions needed for handling post or packages,” Mr O’Riordain says.
“This complements the highly publicised guidance from public health authorities for people to wash their hands more often than usual using soap and hot water.”
Amazon has also committed to stringent cleaning measures, increasing “the frequency and intensity of cleaning at all sites” and “requiring employees and delivery service partners to clean and disinfect their work stations”.
Should you clean parcels?
The CDC states that if a surface is “visibly dirty”, it would be “best practise” to clean it and then disinfect as a means of preventing both the coronavirus and the spread of “other viral respiratory illnesses”.
If you are concerned about contaminated or unclean surfaces, you could open your delivery packages outside, in the event that the weather holds up.
You should then dispose of the packaging as quickly as possible.
Should we really be shopping for non-essentials online at all?
During the lockdown, some people may have no choice but to rely on online shopping to help deliver household essentials.
For example, if they are showing symptoms of coronavirus and do not have anyone nearby who can do their grocery shopping, then ordering a delivery from a supermarket is a must-do.
However, for other items, such as clothing, is it necessary that online shopping continue?
The question of whether it is right or wrong to continue buying non-essential items during the coronavirus pandemic does not conjure a black and white answer.
The government recently outlined businesses that it deemed “essential” to stay open during the lockdown.
This list includes supermarkets; pharmacies; petrol stations, home and hardware stores; garages; car rentals; pet shops; corner shops; newsagents; post offices; banks; bicycle shops and laundrettes and dry cleaners.
Online retail “is still open and encouraged”, the government said, while “postal and delivery service will run as normal”.
While these regulations mean that retail brands can continue to operate online, some have stated that it is not safe for them to do so.
Some might also argue that during a pandemic, shopping for a new summer dress should hardly be considered a priority.
Nonetheless, the fact that retailers cannot currently operate in stores means that many need to maintain their online businesses in order to stay afloat.
Fashion and homeware retailer Laura Ashley recently went into administration, stating that Covid-19 “had an immediate and significant impact on trading”.
The downfall of the retail brand meant that 2,700 jobs had been put at risk. The subsequent closure of 70 stores resulted in 721 workers losing their jobs.
On 26 March, fashion brand Next announced it had closed its warehouses after initially opting to keep them open during the lockdown.
The company’s bosses was urged to do so by politicians and members of staff after some workers said they felt pressured into helping with online orders in stores.
“It is clear that many increasingly feel they should be at home in the current climate,” Next said. “Next has therefore taken the difficult decision to temporarily close its online, warehousing and distribution operations from this evening, Thursday 26 March 2020.”
Earlier this month, Next chief executive Simon Wolfson warned that the coronavirus outbreak was going to have a hugely detrimental impact on the British high street, stating: “Our industry is facing a crisis that is unprecedented in living memory, but we believe that our balance sheet and margins mean that we can weather the storm.”
Some have called on other retailers, such as Asos, to follow in the footsteps of Next by ceasing online operations.
The GMB Union, a general trade union with more than 631,000 members, launched a petition calling on Asos to “shut up shop”.
In its petition, the trade union references reports of several ambulance appearances at an Asos warehouse in Barnsley, where “thousands of workers” are reportedly working in a “crowded” environment.
“Retailer Next has agreed to close their local warehouse to keep workers safe — paying all workers in full — using the government’s 80 per cent wage guarantee,” GMB states.
“Now it’s time for Asos to do the responsible thing — and shut up shop.”
When buying an item online, it would be worth looking into the policies of your chosen retailer to see how they are looking after their workers amid the virus outbreak.
Ratula Chakraborty, professor of business management at the University of East Anglia, says it is “important” for “economic activity” such as online shopping “to continue while it’s safe to do so”, as this could prove beneficial the economy.
However, it may be wise to consider your reasoning behind doing online shopping of non-essential items while you are at home. If you could do without the products on your wish list, then perhaps you could save your money to spend at your leisure another time.
The Independent has contacted Asos, the British Retail Consortium and Amazon for further comment.