Coronavirus: Pizza scare jolts food business in Delhi – India Today

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Lakhs of people across Delhi-NCR, who have been used to ordering in food, particularly in lockdown days, woke up on Thursday morning to a barrage of WhatsApp messages, advising them to discontinue the practice.

This was the trigger: a pizza delivery boy had tested positive for the Coronavirus. His 17 coworkers are being kept in a government quarantine facility for Covid-19 tests.

Authorities have identified 72 families, in Malviya Nagar and Hauz Khas neighbourhoods of South Delhi, where the delivery boy had visited with food in the past, and put them in home quarantine.

Nupur Mehra, a data analyst who has been working from home, along with her husband, a senior engineer with a Gurgaon-based company, had no choice but to order in food after their cook stopped showing up. Like many others Mehra is a worried woman now.

“We have two children. Cooking different dishes and junk food is impossible for us, so my husband used to place orders. But after hearing about the infected delivery boy, we won’t order any food,” she said.

Home delivery of essential items like food in lockdown days has been a compulsion for everyone, the young and the old. “We will be more cautious from now onwards and will not open the gate for any delivery boy. We will ask them to keep the items outside the gate and, using gloves, we will bring them inside,” said Harpal Kaur (74), a retired school principal of who lives with his wife in Defence Colony.


The pizza delivery boy is a resident of Savitri Nagar area in Malviya Nagar. Officials said he showed symptoms of Coronavirus for days until April 14 when he tested positive throwing district health and administration authorities into a tizzy.

“We are considering that all those involved in home delivery of food are put through clinical screening so that those showing symptoms are stopped from visiting homes,” said BM Mishra, District Magistrate, South Delhi.


The incident has made delivery boys fearful of catching the disease and being attacked by the locals. “Till now, all of us (delivery boys) were seen as heroes who are working in this pandemic situation by providing doorstep services. But now, we will now be considered as potential ‘super spreaders,” said a 28-year-old West Delhi-based delivery boy.

But they cannot afford to skip work. Most of them work for 12 hours a day risking their lives. They follow procedures but not all employers help them with sanitisers and masks.

“As we come under the essential services, even the company we are associated with has asked us to quit in case we don’t want to risk our lives,” said a 31-year-old delivery boy who has started living separately after the pandemic hit.


On March 25, the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government announced a helpline number (1031) through which staff delivering essential goods could get e-passes on their mobile phones, which can be used as identification during the lockdown.

“We will test people in home quarantine and institutional quarantine. We can initiate action against the company if we find that the delivery boy was working even after showing symptoms,” said Satyendar Jain, Delhi Health Minister.

Reports suggested that the 19-year-old delivery boy who tested positive on April 14 and delivered food till April 12 had been showing symptoms since third week of March.

The number of positive cases in Delhi has crossed the 1500-mark including 32 deaths, till Wednesday.


Reports also suggested that online food delivery business, among the very few sectors that had survived the economic gloom due to the global pandemic, was likely to take a massive blow in the capital after the news of the pizza delivery agent testing positive came in. Many RWA office bearers such as BS Vohra, President of the East Delhi RWAs Joint Front, have circulated messages among residents to prefer cooking in home for few days.

Karan Tanna, founder of Ghost Kitchens, was quoted by a news agency saying that there would be a drop of more than 50 per cent in people ordering food online. The sector had already seen a drastic drop due to the spread of coronavirus, he said. Anurag Katriar, president, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), too admitted that there will be some impact of the incident on the consumers’ mind.

“These are unprecedented times wherein health of anyone involved in any permitted outdoor activity is fraught with high risk of contamination and spread. However, few essential services need to be carried out even during the lockdown in larger public interest, home delivery of food being one of them. List of permitted activities is circulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs. NRAI has always been very mindful of the well-being of its guests, members and employees,” he said.


The news spread like wildfire on Thursday morning and food delivery service provider Zomato issued a clarification saying some of the deliveries made by the concerned restaurant were done via Zomato. “We are not sure whether the rider was infected at the time of delivery,” the Zomato statement said. Zomato added that the restaurant had asked all delivery boys to wear masks and take precautions. With lockdown underway, most of the citizens’ opt for the deliveries. As the news spread, other players that do deliveries like Domino’s too came out with statements.

Domino’s said that they deepsanitise their restaurants, delivery bikes, boxes and pizza hot bags, along with moving 100% deliveries to zero-contact deliveries. Online food delivery company Swiggy said it was taking all precautions: “We have already opted for no-contact delivery, where the customer can use it updating the app, or by calling their delivery partner and asking for their order to be dropped off at their gate or door,” it said


Panic was palpable in neighbouring Gurugram too. Many delivery boys associated with restaurants, food joints and departmental stores said they were not equipped with personal protection kits.

Personal protection kits including Sodium hypochlorite solution, liquid hand wash, hand gloves and face masks are mandatory as per the Haryana Epidemic Act 2020 for every delivery boys associated with essential services.

A delivery boy of Gurugram said that he wears hand gloves at the time of delivery of food packets only.

“I am carrying hand sanitiser in my bag and using it every time before and after delivery,” he said.

Amit Khatri, the District Magistrate of Gurugram, said the administration was keeping a close watch.

“Persons associated with essential services are under close watch of various departments like food and civil supplies and police. The cops deployed on check posts are given strict direction to look out for violations done by essential service operators and vendors,” he said.

(With input from Nikhil Lakhwani in Delhi)

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