Call for specific COVID-19 guidance and protection for gig workers


15 March 2020

There are three main challenges that COVID-19 present to infectious disease control, subclinical transmission, long incubation period and long viability. Subclinical transmission includes two scenarios, asymptomatic cases who have no sign of illness and mild symptomatic cases, both of which can carry on everyday activities.  Latest reports show that more than 80% of cases are mild and about 1.2% are asymptomatic (Zhang and Team 2020). As early as 12 and 13 February, peer-reviewed publications on Lancet discussed a few cases demonstrated that subclinical transmission was one of the epidemiology characteristics of the new virus (Chang et al. 2020; Heymann and Shindo 2020). In addition, incubation period of COVID-19 is on average 5-6 days and can be as long as 14 days (Lauer et al. 2020; WHO-China 2020). Latest lab research also shows that the virus can suspend in air in aerosols for up to 3 hours, and live up to 4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel (van Doremalen et al. 2020). As a result, containing measures such as isolation and contact tracing from symptom onset are less effective at slowing the epidemic and population distancing strategy will be necessary. However, collecting epidemiological evidence at large scale is always difficult at early stages of an outbreak and hence current guidance provided by Public Health England for employers is still based on the assumption that there is “little evidence that people without symptoms are infectious to others”1. This is falling behind emerging evidence and current UK measures has been criticised as inadequate comparing to many other countries (WHO-China 2020). Nevertheless, organizations and industries in the UK have started taking social distancing measures voluntarily such as cancelling large events and moving conferences and lectures online.



It is foreseeable that in the coming few weeks, dependence on the Internet and digital platforms will increase dramatically. It will have significant impact on delivery personnel who are connecting the last mile between the online sites and actual addresses. Workload is beginning to increase whilst occupation-specific trainings and protective equipment is lacking. Many couriers and riders are also gig workers who work as self-employed or on zero-hour contracts, and hence enjoy minimum employment rights and low level of health and safety protection. Latest numbers from China suggest that for the working populations, healthcare workers accounted for far lower percentage of COVID-19 cases (3.8%) and case fatality (0.5%) compared to SARS period (21% of total deaths), whilst self-employed, service industry workers, farm workers and labourers accounted for the majority of cases and case fatality <span style=">(Zhang and Team 2020; Chen et al. 2020). Our concern lies particularly with the couriers and riders who will need to go out and deliver the orders and hence have a higher risk of been infected and a potential to become a spreader if appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and adequate trainings are not provided.

Researchers at the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at University of Manchester have been prioritizing research about health and safety for gig workers and have recently been awarded funds by the MRC to develop a public health intervention for couriers in China. Currently they are invited by the NIHR to develop a fast-track research proposal to evaluate the effectiveness of existing guidance and protection provided to gig workers in the UK and aim to adapt and improve the interventions as the situation develops. They are calling for platform companies such as Deliveroo, Amazon, DPD and Hermes and retailers with substantial operation of online shopping and home delivery such as Tesco, Sainsbury and ASDA to come forward to join the efforts to protect riders and couriers, so when population home-isolation is necessary, household will still have food and groceries delivered to their doorsteps. Please email Dr Hua Wei at if you are an organization of this sector or a rider or courier and would like to participate in the research.



Chang, De, Huiwen Xu, Andre Rebaza, Lokesh Sharma, and Charles S. Dela Cruz. 2020. 'Protecting health-care workers from subclinical coronavirus infection', The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

Chen, Nanshan, Min Zhou, Xuan Dong, Jieming Qu, Fengyun Gong, Yang Han, Yang Qiu, Jingli Wang, Ying Liu, Yuan Wei, Jia'an Xia, Ting Yu, Xinxin Zhang, and Li Zhang. 2020. 'Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study', The Lancet.

Heymann, David L., and Nahoko Shindo. 2020. 'COVID-19: what is next for public health?', The Lancet.

Lauer, Stephen A., Kyra H. Grantz, Qifang Bi, Forrest K. Jones, Qulu Zheng, Hannah R. Meredith, Andrew S. Azman, Nicholas G. Reich, and Justin Lessler. 2020. 'The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application', Annals of internal medicine.

van Doremalen, Neeltje, Trenton Bushmaker, Dylan Morris, Myndi Holbrook, Amandine Gamble, Brandi Williamson, Azaibi Tamin, Jennifer Harcourt, Natalie Thornburg, Susan Gerber, Jamie Lloyd-Smith, Emmie de Wit, and Vincent Munster. 2020. 'Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1', medRxiv: 2020.03.09.20033217.

WHO-China. 2020. "Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)." In.: WHO.

Zhang, Yanping, and The Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Emergency Response Epidemiology Team. 2020. 'The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) — China, 2020', China CDC Weekly, 2: 113-22.



1 Accessed 15 March 2020