/ Health

Are your deliveries, parcels and post safe?

We all want to limit our potential exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible, but do we really need to be disinfecting our deliveries and post?

The question of disinfecting deliveries has understandably come up a number of times this past month.

To get the facts and advice on how to handle deliveries as safely as possible, I spoke with Public Health England and Royal Mail.

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

Here’s what the risk is, what you should do if you’re receiving a delivery and what additional measures have been put in place.

How do contactless deliveries work?

All couriers are limiting contact with customers during the outbreak. This means you’ll no longer be asked to sign for parcels. 

Most courier services ask that you agree a safe place with them in advance. If there’s no safe place available, most couriers will follow these steps:

📦 The driver will leave the parcel on your doorstep

📦 They will then knock on your door and retreat two metres away.

📦 The driver will wait for you to retrieve the parcel and ask for your name as proof of delivery

If the courier hasn’t followed these steps you can ask them to do so through the door before opening. 

Some couriers, such as DPD and Hermes, might also take a photo of the parcel (not of the recipient) as evidence of delivery.

What does Public Health England recommend?

First and foremost, Public Health England (PHE) says it’s best for people to practise good hand hygiene.

That means you need to regularly wash your hands with soap and water.

If soap or water isn’t available and your hands are visibly clean then sanitizer gel can be used – but proper hand washing is the most effective method and this should be your first choice as soon as you’ve handled anything from outside your home – including parcels, post or other deliveries.

Is there a risk of catching coronavirus from a delivery?

PHE told us that while not a lot is known about COVID-19, it is likely to behave in a similar way to other coronaviruses.

How long any respiratory virus survives will depend on a number of factors, such as the surface the virus is on, whether it’s exposed to sunlight, different temperatures/humidity and exposure to cleaning products.

In most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 24 hours, and even more so after a further 48 hours.

Because COVID-19 is a new illness, PHE says it isn’t yet known exactly how it spreads from person to person, but similar viruses are mainly spread by cough and sneeze droplets, and ‘indirect contact with infected respiratory secretions’.

PHE said that appropriate infection and prevention control measures are being implemented to reduce the risk to the public.

You can read PHE’s guidance in full here

We reached out to the biggest delivery firm in the UK – Royal Mail – to find out more.

What’s Royal Mail doing to reduce the risk?

Royal mail told us that it’s committed to keeping the mail moving – delivering letters and parcels across the UK, including to those who find it difficult to leave their homes.

Royal Mail has committed around £15 million on buying equipment such as hand sanitiser, gloves and other additional protective measures designed to keep its people safe and the vast majority of mail can be posted safely through the letterbox without any interaction needed at all.

It has implemented a raft of changes designed to implement social distancing measures, including a new rule that means there can only be one person in a Royal Mail delivery vehicle at any one time.

You can expect your Royal Mail deliveries to work like this:

If you’re self isolating: If the item does not require a signature, it is asking you to safely advise your postie that you’re self-isolating (for example, talking through the door). They should then place the item at the door and step aside to a safe distance while you retrieve it.

Signing for items: Your postie will not hand over a hand-held device to you to capture a signature but instead log they will the name of the person accepting the item.  

Receiving a large delivery: If your delivery won’t fit through your letterbox, it will be left at your door. Having knocked on your door, you postie will then step back to a safe distance while you retrieve your item. This will ensure your item is delivered securely rather than being left outside. 

Care home deliveries: To keep the mail moving but prevent the spread of Coronavirus, Royal Mail has made arrangements to deliver to a central point, such as reception, instead of individual addresses within care homes.

Along with these measures, Royal Mail has been promoting regular hand washing with soap and water, enhanced disinfectant cleaning of its communal areas on a daily basis, as well as providing latex gloves to any staff who request them.

Are you worried about potentially being exposed to illness by your post or deliveries?
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How have you been approaching deliveries at home? Are you being extra cautious or carrying on as before? Let us know in the comments.

Comments
Richard Burton says:
2 May 2020

If I send presonal mail I dampen the adhesive strip to seal the envelope with tap water and mark the envelope as such for the recipient to reassure them. Sadly an electronic birthday card is not the same as a physical one! Commercial mail (Bills, Bank Statements etc.) will be sealed as part of an automated packaging process. To remove all risk you can request a switch to electronic communications that are readily available from the finance and utility providers etc. However you choose to reduce your risk on items entering your home handwashing is important, be it to reduce Covid-19 risk or the myriad of other similar infections that we are potentially exposed to on every surface we touch.
What precautions do commercial recipients take? By now most will have SOP’s (Safe Operating Procedures) for handling incoming mail in place.

Jenny says:
2 May 2020

Any package or post delivered to me, I put aside (then wash my hands) for 3 days on a piece of newspaper before opening. With shopping, unless it’s frozen I put the packages out on newspaper on the kitchen floor for at least four hours before putting them in the fridge and for those items with harder plastic I am wiping them down with an anti-bacterial wipe. I have had some plant plugs delivered and will unwrap them earlier but make sure to wash my hands after touching the packaging. I’ve had to invest in some medical hand cream as the skin on the backs of my hands was getting so dry it was starting to split over the knuckles!

With all this sterilisation and sanitisation, is there a risk that our personal immunities will be deficient? I should like to acquire some resistance to viruses by natural means. I would appreciate a scientific opinion on this.

There’s no simple answer, John. Everything which enters our bodies affects us in different ways; people who had received either the TB vaccine as a baby, or the smallpox vaccine, or both, were up to 2.5 times less likely to develop melanoma, which came as a surprise.

In Italy, Giuseppe Mastrangelo of the University of Padua in Italy and colleagues found that dairy workers in the province were far less likely to get lung cancer compared with their peers who worked in fields or orchards (Indoor and Built Environment, vol 13, p 35). The greater the number of cows, the greater the protection.

Harvey Checkoway at the University of Washington, and his team looked at cancer rates among female cotton textile workers in Shanghai, China, where detailed records reveal past exposures to endotoxin. Those with higher and longer endotoxin exposure on the job had a lower incidence of many cancer types, including lung, breast, liver, stomach and pancreatic cancer.

But it’s possibly better to get the dirt when you’re young. As we age our immune systems become less competent.

Acquiring resistance to disease (other than by artificial means such as vaccination) involves being infected and our natural defences successfully dealing with the problem. Bacterial infections are much better understood than viral ones. With most bacterial infections the infective dose is quite high but there are exceptions, such as E. coli O157:H7 for which it is estimated that between 10 and 100 bacteria can cause infection, which can be fatal.

Some virus infections such as the common cold and norovirus are common and highly infectious but not usually serious. On the other hand, smallpox was reputed to kill a third of its victims. It’s 40 years ago since smallpox was declared to have been eradicated but if it was used a weapon today, there might be few who still have any immunity. Mutation of viruses makes it more difficult to develop a vaccine, which is why the ‘flu vaccine may not offer protection against seasonal influenza.

I think it would be unwise to try and acquire immunity to viruses by natural means, especially during the current coronavirus outbreak.

Ian provides some examples of how our environment can affect our health.

Jenny – All the hand washing is likely to cause skin problems and I recently had to use hand-cream for the first time in my life. I suggest wearing nitrile gloves when you want protection. These can easily be washed for reuse – most easily done while still wearing them. When you do wash your hands and rinse thoroughly to remove soap.

To continue this convo I have switched to The Lobby.

Grey Rabbit says:
2 May 2020

Neither I or my husband are over 70 although we are over 60. So, I don’t look to avoid any possibility of virus but do want to limit potential exposure. I have taken to leaving the post 24 hrs before picking it up. All our mail thus takes one extra day to reach us but any virus gets 24hrs to die significantly.

Brian says:
2 May 2020

Spelling!
“people to practice”
“it’s people safe”
Which? used to take care over spelling.

Sadly, Brian, this is a universal condition. Which? Magazine is littered with minor howlers, too many and far too unimportant to fret over. We all do it from time to time. Proof-reading your own work and doing it on a screen is notoriously unreliable.

Technically those were grammar issues, rather than spelling 😉 Thanks for spotting them – I’ve just fixed both.

Which? still takes care, but some things do slip through sometimes – I’m sure there are a few errors in the old mags, too.

If you *really* want to nitpick, this is orthography, not grammar 😉

Sorry Kate I am placing this comment into moderation 🙈

Richard Watt says:
5 May 2020

Oh dear, Brian, your spelling is not as good as you thought, unless you are an American. In British English the verb is ‘practise’, the noun ‘practice’. Which got this one right.

If you read George’s post it says that the error has been corrected. Keep up at the back. 😉

Richard – The title “Which?” includes a question mark.

There are two forms of the verb – You can practise as a dental surgeon or you can practice as a dental student.

In the sentence in the article “First and foremost, Public Health England (PHE) says it’s best for people to practise good hand hygiene” the usage as corrected is perfectly proper.

Indeed. although the issue is, I feel, unnecessarily convoluted. Late Middle English favoured ‘practise’ as the verb, whereas our US cousins use ‘practice’ for both the verb and the noun.

However, as Kate hints, in her earlier comment about orthography, the OED accepts ‘practice’ for ‘repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it’, while pointing out that ‘practise’ is slightly older and favoured by purists.

For linguistic masochists: Practise origin late Middle English: from Old French prractiser or medieval Latin practizare, alteration of practicare ‘perform, carry out’, from practica ‘practice’, from Greek praktikē, feminine (used as a noun), of praktikos (see practical)

Mick B says:
3 May 2020

When post arrives through the letterbox my wife sprays it with anti-bac and leaves it there for most of the day before opening it.

Easier, more effective and cheaper to use gloves to open the mail, then wash the gloves with soap and water.

I wonder if the anti-bacterial spray has any effect on coronavirus.

DerekP says:
4 May 2020

That will, of course, depend on its chemical comnposition. If it contains soap or bleach, then it ought to have some effect. But if, as might also be likely, it contains other specific ingredients chosen for their known antibacterial effects, then those probably won’t be effective against the virus.

Can you tell I’ve been reading a lot of small print lately, when buying household cleaners.

margaret McGregor says:
3 May 2020

Any deliveries I wipe down with an anti bacterial wipe, or leave it 72 hours before opening and wash my hands immediately after handling its initial delivery and opening if I have not left it as above (72hrs)

Em says:
3 May 2020

Does wearing gloves actually reduce the chances of getting Covid-19? I’m not following this.

If I don’t wear gloves, I need to wash my hands after touching potentially infected surfaces.

If I do wear gloves, ideally I would need to wash my hands both before wearing them (so I don’t contaminate the insides) and afterwards (so my hands don’t remain contaminated after accidentally touching the outsides).

Gloves do nothing to save me hand washing and potentially make it worse.

What am I missing here?

DerekP says:
3 May 2020

Em, if you end up handling a contaminated object without gloves and your hands then get contaminated, you are then relying on a single line-of-defence – i.e. washing your hands – to prevent the further spread of contamination.

Used properly, gloves can provide a second line-of-defence. But that might require that you start with known clean or sterile gloves and then either dispose of the gloves or make they get cleaned immediately after use. In workplace situations, training usually covers to to check the gloves before use and the correct ways for putting them on and off.

So without all those steps, you may be correct to think that gloves won’t be a great benefit to the untrained amateur.

🙂 I suppose if you’re inside your house and can be reasonably certain there are no contaminated surfaces inside then you can put gloves on without having to wash your hands, deal with materials entering the house, using the gloves, then wash the gloves with soap and water while wearing them, then remove them and continue as normal without gloves.

But however you do it, it’s a palaver.

As I see it the aim of the exercise is to help ensure that any contamination of my home is below what could cause infection. The passenger footwell of my car has three pairs of nitrile gloves on the floor – inside out – following loading the car with groceries at click & collect sessions. I take them off carefully before touching anything inside the car. When they are removed for washing in warm soapy water, inside and out, I will check for holes and after drying they will be ready for use.

When washing gloves that have just been used to open packages I just wash them with soapy water before removing them.

If I had the misfortune of sharing the house with someone who was infected I would go around disinfecting door handles and window sills.

If I did not wear gloves I would feel the need to be more thorough with hand washing and I’d rather not end up with eczema or dermatitis.

Jeannette says:
4 May 2020

Washing hands so much more than ‘normal’, despite always using hand cream I found my hands were getting just a touch sore. Nappy cream (Sudocrem), tiny dab at night because it’s a bit greasy – works a treat.

As Ian says, learning to take extra safety precautions is a palaver.

In my working life as an engineer, I have often visited plants where scrupulous clean conditions were enforced, e.g. to control hazardous substances or for other purposes. When I have to don all the appropriate clothing and PPE, even just for short visits, it gives me great respect for all those who have to work that way all the time, in their day jobs.

In the present pademic, having to take decisions about wether or not to don PPE in certain public spaces outside my home helps me to respect all the NHS, care workers and others who are now having to work that way.

Alan says:
4 May 2020

I use nitrile rubber gloves which I wash before removing them. I wondered about the effectiveness of an antibiotic wipe on removing a virus, but if the virus is only loosely affixed to any hard surface, then wiping with a moist cloth will mechanically transfer it to the cloth, which is then disposed of. It is a very laborious effort whichever way you do it.

Nigel says:
7 May 2020

Envelopes I pick out of postbox wearing a glove and use a letter opener and take the letter out with tweezers. The letter should be fine as it will not have been touched for 24 h; the envelope may have been handled. Parcels are similarly treated and opened with a blade; again the contents will have been isolated for some time. Internal plastic packaging is treated as potentially hazardous for 3 days after dispatch and left until such time has ele=apsed or washed with soap and water.

Packaging, envelopes and containers are disposed of immediately.

Peter Beadle says:
9 May 2020

Large items wiped down with disinfected water. After handling letters etc I’ve washed my hands after opening them. Envelopes put in recycling bin.

DPD Update

I ordered a product direct from Dyson after calling them to find out who would be delivering the parcel and they assured me the parcel would come via Parcelforce and not DPD. So imagine my dismay when a couple of hours later I got a delivery notice from DPD that stated:
Please note, our driver is unable to leave this item safe. Show my options
The only option available to me was to have the parcel delivered to a neighbour.

I called Dyson who said there was nothing they could do but I could refuse delivery and would receive a refund within 5 days. Really? After I had gone to all the trouble of being kept on hold for over half an hour to specifically check on the delivery company?

I had another look at the DPD website and decided to try option 1 of the help page:

🔴 I’m self-isolating and expecting a DPD delivery, what should I do?
Simply leave a signed note, attached to your front door, instructing our driver where your parcel should be left. He will take a photo of the signed note, along with a photo of where he has left your parcel as proof of delivery.

On this occasion, I was quite prepared for the parcel to be returned to sender but thought I would try a signed note declaring self-isolation with the parcel details.

We stayed in another room and watched the usual courier on camera . . .

When it was evident we were not coming to the door, he picked up the parcel and for a moment it looked like he was going to take it away with him again. He then faffed around with it and the note taking photos at various angles before taking the note with him and much to our surprise, he left the parcel.

I then received a message from DPD stating the parcel had been delivered to a neighbour !!!

He normally drives onto our driveways but parked outside and walked in, he also walked into neighbours across the road. Are customers getting wise to his antics and know to hide when he is expected?

It would have been a great help if the government had laid down rules for couriers etc. to comply with and then we would all know what to expect.

The last time I had a delivery, several weeks ago, I stayed behind my car and asked for the driver to put the box anywhere on the drive, and when he had departed I collected it.

Like care homes and other customer-facing businesses they are meant to be professional and keep up with the legislation that affects them. Their trade associations are there to advise. I do not believe we need the government to do more than lay down the framework.

I see the Scottish Government noe permits lawn bowls to be played but it is Bowls Scotland who have set out the detailed guide.