Is it safe to receive clothes deliveries and could they spread coronavirus?

With high street clothing stores closed during the coronavirus pandemic, more people than ever are getting their fashion fix online.

However, workers in fashion warehouses have warned that an explosion in online orders means they have had to continue working as the pandemic rages on.

How might online sales spread coronavirus?

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Working in crowded conditions, staff at warehouses across the UK have said they fear catching or transmitting coronavirus while on the job.

In late March, for instance, a survey carried out by the GMB union found that more than 98 per cent of the 460 workers surveyed at the Asos warehouse in Barnsley said they felt unsafe at work - even after safety measures were introduced.

One worker told The Mirror that conditions made it practically impossible to follow government guidance on social distancing:

“The bosses said online shopping should be encouraged. But it’s almost impossible to socially distance. There’s a minimum of 500 people there.

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“I’m sat 3ft from somebody. There’s somebody else 3ft away from me in another direction.”

Another worker accused the company of  "playing roulette with people’s lives.”

According to The Guardian, workers at the Barnsley warehouse said that the company had not supplied sufficient stocks of protective gear for staff - such as gloves and hand sanitiser.

They also said that they fear staff coming into work while ill, as workers at the warehouse are only able to claim statutory sick pay - £94.25 a week - if they take time off.

Tim Roache, the GMB general secretary told the paper:

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"Conditions at Asos are scarcely believable – workers we’ve spoken to describe it as a ‘cradle of disease’. It’s absolutely horrifying, a real catalogue of shame.”

“Here you’ve got people packed on to public transport, a lack of social distancing, thousands of workers going into one warehouse then back to their families.”

However Nick Beighton, chief executive of the fashion chain, refuted the claims, telling The Guardian:

“We totally refute these allegations. They are false and do nothing more than serve to create panic and hysteria in an already uncertain time.

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“In line with government guidance, and with support from the Community union and Barnsley borough council, we are striking the right balance between keeping our warehouse operational, for the good of our employees and the wider economy, and maintaining the health and safety of staff, which is always our number one priority.”

What does the government say? 

On its advice page "closing certain businesses and venues" the government says that "Online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery service will run as normal".

While some online fashion retailers have chosen to close their operations during the crisis, others are remaining open for business on a virtual basis.

Should I order clothes online? 

Buying clothes online can be a great way to support smaller retailers through a difficult economic period, so purchasing through smaller independent retailers may be one option.

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It is up to you whether to order clothes online, and there is no official guidance currently stating that you can't or shouldn't.

Before you buy, however, it may be worth considering how "essential" your purchase is, and whether ordering it may be put workers at risk and potentially spreading coronavirus further.

Again, a good way of determining this is to do some research on the company you're buying from and what policies or protections they currently have in place for workers.

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