Coronavirus Surges at Online Sellers' Warehouses

  • By Jin Joong-eon

    May 28, 2020 09:46

    Coronavirus infections are spreading in warehouses run by online commerce companies Coupang and Market Kurly. The surge at Coupang's warehouse in Bucheon has also spread to a nearby call center that has some 1,600 workers.

    Health authorities said Wednesday that a call center worker contracted the virus while working at the Coupang warehouse in Bucheon last weekend. He developed a sore throat and cough and told the company before isolating himself. He tested positive on Tuesday.

    The call center is eight times the size of the one in Guro in southern Seoul where 166 employees tested positive earlier this year. Bucheon city officials set up a makeshift facility on the roof of the call center to check all 1,300 staff.

    The number of confirmed infections traced to workers at the warehouse has risen by 49 in just one day to 63. Health authorities believe the workers came into close contact without wearing masks in the cafeteria and smoking areas. Some 1,523 people including staff and suppliers are being tested, so the number of cases is expected to rise even more.

    A notice of temporary closure is placed on the fence of Coupang's warehouse in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province on Wednesday. /Yonhap

    One 44-year-old women working in a warehouse in southern Seoul run by online fresh food supplier Market Kurly has also tested positive, prompting the company to shut down the facility. She only worked at the warehouse on Sunday packaging products.

    She drove to a seminar in Daejeon on Saturday with her friend, the Coupang call center worker, and came into contact with some 300 people, who have been told to quarantine themselves and are being tested.

    Jung Eun-kyeong, the head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Wednesday, "We believe stricter social distancing is required in certain areas where infections have increased."

    But proper prevention is difficult in warehouses with large numbers of part-time workers. To handle the explosive workload, warehouse staff are often crammed into cafeterias by the hundreds so they can eat quickly and get back to work.

    Consumers are getting jittery about being infected by touching the packaging materials delivered to their doorsteps. But Coupang said all workers wear masks and gloves and do not come into direct contact with the products being delivered. Kwon Jun-wook, the deputy chief of the KCDC told reporters, "There have not been any cases worldwide so far of infections caused by products delivered over medium to long distances."

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