Hundreds of delivery men and boys are working overtime - braving the threat of the deadly novel coronavirus - to ensure that the millions of Dhaka residents confined to their homes are receiving their daily needs of groceries, medicine etc
Ever since nationwide shut down began on March 26, online grocery store Chaldal has been overwhelmed with so many orders that they are now recruiting new delivery men on an emergency basis.
Mahmudul Hasan has been working for Chaldal for over two years and manages orders in the Rampura area. He says he has barely been able to manage a single moment's break over the last five days.
"The other day when I was delivering grocery, a woman offered me a glass of water noticing how exhausted I was," said Mahmudul.
Although aware of the risk of such an interaction, he was nonetheless overwhelmed by the generosity of the gesture.
Mahmudul is aware of the risk of delivering goods to people at this time but says he has seen a rise in people's kindness and concern ever since the crisis began, and this inspires him to continue to serve people.
Like Mahmudul, hundreds of delivery men and boys are working overtime, braving the threat of the deadly novel coronavirus, to ensure that the millions of Dhaka residents confined to their homes are receiving their daily needs of groceries, medicine etc.
Arifur Rahman, works as a deliveryman for Shohoz, an online ride sharing, ticketing and food delivery platform. Shohoz has recently introduced grocery and medicines in their delivery service. Orders for grocery items have spiked now as most of the restaurants are closed.
Arifur's wife was very scared when he decided to continue to work during the shutdown. Arifur himself got worried when he realized most of the orders he received were coming from elderly citizens. But he changed his mind after he realized how helpless these people are in this situation.
"I forget everything when I see the gratitude in their eyes while delivering the groceries. I am just glad to help them," said Ariful.
Muhammad Fakhrul Islam works for the Online Pharmacy. Amid the shutdown, the number of orders the company is getting has doubled.
"I used to get 10 to 12 orders a day. Now I have to deliver at least 25 orders a day," said Fakhrul.
Furthermore, Fakhrul used to deliver to the Mohammadpur area only but now has to deliver almost anywhere, even as far as Rampura.
Deliverymen are usually paid a percentage of the delivery charge realized from customers. As many companies like Online Pharmacy have raised their delivery charge, men like Fakhrul are also getting an opportunity to earn some extra money.
Meanwhile, companies like Chaldal, who keep the deliverymen on their payroll, are paying them a 50 percent bonus on salaries.
"It is not about money anymore. It has become more of a responsibility towards people who cannot go out of home to get medicines during this time of emergency," said Ariful.
Boom in online grocery and pharmacy delivery
The companies that never delivered grocery and pharmacy have joined the race of delivering these goods in this time of crisis. Shohoz and ride-sharing company Pathao introduced new services of grocery and pharmacy to help people during the time of shutdown as they experience a declining trend in food delivery after most of the restaurants closed their operations to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Super shops Unimart, Shwapno and Meena Bazar have also begun to deliver their goods at the doorsteps of their customers. A few restaurants like Domino's Pizza Bangladesh have energized their own delivery system.
Pathao has introduced Pathao Tong for grocery and Pathao Pharma for medicines. Shohoz has teamed up with Agora for grocery.
During the shutdown, grocery shops and pharmacies remain open. But as people have been asked to maintain social distance in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, home delivery of food and grocery has turned into an emergency service.
Naveed Akter, the senior director, strategic initiative of Chaldal said they are receiving more than four thousand orders each day from their nine warehouses.
On their server they had to limit the number of orders every day to six thousand. The organization has made arrangements of stay-at-station for their workers. A few directors are also staying there to encourage the delivery people.
Md Osman Saleh, senior executive of Marketing department at Pathao, said, "These two new services were not introduced with the idea of expanding our business".
Saleh said the new additions were not necessarily financially viable and were only introduced to help people and to reduce the risk of the virus spreading further.
"Also we do not want our employees to become jobless. This is why we are running them," explained Osman.
Hungrynaki, a food delivery app, has meanwhile stopped all of their services thinking about the safety of their employees.
Measures taken by the companies for their safety
Many delivery men like Ariful, Fakhrul and Mahmudul have received gloves and masks from their employers. While this is clearly not enough to protect them from potentially contracting the virus, what is more unfortunate is many of these delivery men are sometimes being negligent about their own protection and that of their customers.
Farhana Rahman, a journalist, recently ordered food through a well-reputed app as she thought they would provide contactless delivery.
"To my utter surprise, the delivery person delivered the food bare-handed. He was wearing a simple faded mask," said Farhana.
When she asked him about it, the delivery boy said his company had promised to provide him with gloves shortly.
As delivery men spend a large amount of time on the outside, their safety is a matter of serious concern.
Ishrat Jahan Nabila, director HR, Legal and Compliance from Chaldal, said they were maintaining the primary hygiene methods suggested by World Health Organisation (WHO).
Chaldal provided their delivery persons with mask, gloves and hand sanitizers. The employees, who choose to return home, are trained to wash their clothes as soon as they enter their houses.
Most other companies involved in delivery business at the moment echoed Ishrat's words. They are also encouraging online payment to reduce contact.
Researcher and activist Maha Mirza thinks giving masks and gloves to these frontline fighters is not enough.
"If we want to receive services from them we must provide them with proper personal protective equipment," she said.
She went on to say, these people do not have the luxury to stay at home. They have been risking everything for their livelihood and for the people. So, the companies must provide them with the best kind of safety measures.
CEO of Foodpanda Bangladesh Ambareen Reza said, "We are in constant communication with our restaurant partners following the latest World Health Organization notices while advising them on the health and safety practices beyond our food hygiene expectations."
"Foodpanda is committed to the wellbeing of their partners and will continue to monitor the situation, updating measures as required," she added.