A protocol is needed to ensure that home delivery fleets do not place drivers or the public at additional risk from coronavirus, says FleetCheck.

These fleets could serve an essential role in the next few months by ensuring that people who are self-isolating can easily access food and other essentials – but there is a possibility that drivers could be exposing themselves to risk as well as personally spreading the virus.

Peter Golding, managing director at FleetCheck, said: “This is an area where we need to establish some sensible ground rules very quickly, we believe. Home delivery fleets have a potentially crucial role to play but could also become a problem in themselves

“Some experts are even forecasting a spike in leisure Internet shopping because people will be stuck at home and it would seem grossly irresponsible if the virus was being needlessly spread because people were ordering lots of clothes, games and books.

“At the most basic level, the act of signing for delivery with your fingertip on a screen should stop right now. I’m no epidemiologist but if someone is self-isolating, you don’t want them placing a finger on a widely shared surface, however often it is cleaned.

Peter said that the problem appeared to fall into two areas – how to protect drivers from potentially infected customers and vice versa, and how to prevent drivers who were unknowingly infected from spreading the virus delivery-by-delivery.

“It appears that, at one level, we need to be able to deliver goods with the minimum of human contact. There are all kinds of ways of doing this, especially if we know that the person is at home. The simplest would probably be to leave the delivery outside the door and then call them to let them know it is there, with the driver waiting an effective distance away from the door to make a visual check that the parcel has been received. They could even take an image of the customer collecting it to confirm receipt.

“The question of infected drivers is more difficult, especially as this is an area where a lot of people undertaking home deliveries are essentially self-employed, so could feel that they need to keep working even if they are showing symptoms. It may be that something as formal as a regular testing regime is needed if no other solution is available.

“Also, it may be that packaging is needed that forms a barrier between driver and foodstuffs, for example, and we need to tackle the possibility of transmitting the virus on cardboard surfaces where I understand it can live for up to 24 hours.”

Peter added that drivers who were on the road for most of the day could also find it difficult to undertake basic hygiene measures.

“Like a lot of people who work in an office, I am currently washing my hands thoroughly several times a day. That option isn’t easily available to van drivers and currently, it is not even easy to get hold of an anti-bacterial gel. This is something that needs to be resolved.”

Peter said that it would be best if a single protocol could be created either by the Government or one adopted on a voluntary basis by the home delivery sector.

“However, whatever happens, needs to happen quickly and the guidance needs expert consultation in order to have the necessary authority and effectiveness. It should also be regularly reviewed in order to make sure that it is still suitable and working.”