All food delivery operators have imposed precautions to limit the risk on infections such as giving out masks to delivery personnel.
Food delivery firms take moves to protect against infections All delivery operators have imposed various precautions to limit the spread of the infection PHOTO: ST FILE

At least four GrabFood delivery riders have been suspended and more than a hundred others warned for failing to comply with safe distancing rules.

Grab disclosed the numbers of riders penalised in a note to delivery personnel earlier this month that has been seen by The Sunday Times.

It told riders that they must wear a face mask at all times, minimise contact with others and not gather in groups. Its staff also reminded riders of the measures.

Grab did not give further updates on the number of delivery personnel suspended when asked but said: "Those who do not comply (with safe distancing measures) will be warned and fined by the government agencies. "Repeat offenders will be suspended from the Grab platform for at least 12 months."

Foodpanda, which has 9,000 delivery riders, said it has deployed staff to ensure that riders abide by regulations. It said warnings have been issued to a "very low" number of errant riders and no suspensions have been imposed. Deliveroo said most of its 7,000 riders have respected safe distancing guidelines. It did not say if any had been suspended.

Meanwhile, food delivery start-up WhyQ said it did not hire a trainee staff member this month after she was found to have flouted safe distancing rules and failed to cooperate with enforcement officials. Ms. Annetta Chan, its Head of Business Development and Strategy, said, "We take a very strong stance to abide by the rules for social responsibility."

All delivery operators have imposed various other precautions such as encouraging contactless delivery, giving out masks to delivery personnel and asking them to take their temperatures daily.

The stepped-up measures come at a time when demand for food delivery is surging, sparking a spike in the number of new riders being hired.

Grab and Deliveroo both said they have seen an 80% increase in the number of weekly applications to be a delivery rider since last month. Foodpanda said it has had more applicants as well. Grab said that it has added more than 1,500 new food and beverage outlets, such as Din Tai Fung, since January for delivery services. Deliveroo has 700 new partner restaurants in the same period.

Meanwhile, Foodpanda has added 300 new hawker stalls in partnership with WhyQ since January. It has also seen a twofold increase in the number of new restaurants joining it this month compared with last month. WhyQ, which delivers food from hawker stalls, said inquiries from hawkers looking to get listed on its app have increased fourfold since the outbreak started in late January.

Meanwhile, Oddle, an online ordering system that also provides partner F&B operators with food delivery services if needed, said it has linked up with 150 more restaurants since January, a 50% increase from the same period last year.

The number of transactions through its system this month has also grown fivefold from the daily average in the first three months of this year.

Earlier this month, Enterprise Singapore, the Land Transport Authority and Singapore Food Agency said that demand for food delivery services had increased by up to 30% since the ban on dining-in began on 7 April 2020. It added that it is crucial that food delivery personnel comply with safe distancing measures given their frequent interactions with businesses and customers.

Dr. Leong Hoe Nam, an Infectious Diseases Expert from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said anyone who is still travelling around, including food delivery workers, is at risk of getting infected with COVID-19. But the risk can be managed with basic precautions such as washing hands. "All they need to do is to look after themselves - if they protect themselves, they protect the country," he said.

Customers can also take precautions by washing their hands before handling the food. Dr Leong added, "I salute the people who are delivering food. To me, they are also fighting the war at the front line, they are bringing a big convenience to many people.