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Mail delivery in the time of Covid-19

With more than 1.2 billion people estimated to be in lockdown with the closure of schools and non-essential shops, COVID-19 – now a pandemic – has effectively shut down most of the world

In the face of this global crisis, Posts have sought to keep on delivering the mail. As the spread of the virus weakened in some countries, it grew stronger in others. There were announcements of the resumption of mail services in some countries, although, as the virus spread, there were further statements of suspensions.

Throughout early and mid-March, countries faced the continued suspension of flights, an integral element of postal logistics. Other countries followed the World Health Organization guidelines and practiced “social distancing.”

Health and safety first

Many Posts are operating against the background of restrictions on the movement of people and the closure of international borders to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. The sole focus of Posts throughout this period has been on the health and safety of staff and customers. To achieve this, postal operators have informed the UPU of a number of changes to their operations in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organization and the medical advice of governments. Every Post emphasizes fundamental hygiene procedures to be followed, including handwashing, sneezing and coughing into the elbow, and social distancing.

Deutsche Post DHL announced that its goal was full-coverage of postal operations, while implementing recommendations to slow the spread of the pandemic. Similar decisions were made in Australia, the Netherlands and elsewhere to waive the requirement for a signature upon receipt of parcels and registered mail with personal delivery. The new approach curtails contact between customers and postal workers, and prevents the spread of the virus through handheld scanners and pens. A message from Australia Post read: “Delivery will be conducted via limited face-to-face methods and will be effective immediately.”

Correo Uruguayo in Uruguay announced that it was minimizing the spread of the disease by reducing staff numbers at postal facilities and introducing telecommuting where possible. The Latin American postal operator also reduced physical contact, closed post offices with large numbers of customers and created special collection points.

Italy has suffered one of the greatest challenges due to the tragic impact of the global pandemic on its population. Already the country’s top employer, Poste Italiane, has worked courageously and diligently to maintain the flow of post and to protect both its staff and customers. In a message sent to the UPU, the postal operator said it was “fully committed to playing its part in helping Italy to overcome this major challenge." In addition, the message stated that, "A dedicated committee, involving all senior management, has been working around the clock for a number of weeks, in close contact with the relevant institutional bodies, to define and continuously adapt directives and provisions in compliance with the government-mandated precautionary measures intended to prevent the spread of the novel covid-19.”

The Italian postal operator also introduced a detailed sanitation plan accounting for its entire post office network, as well as vehicles and post offices. Safety equipment was also distributed to staff to protect them in their daily work and to ensure that customers could safely enter the country’s post offices. These methods are being adopted across the world as postal operators continue to work tirelessly to ensure that customers receive mail.

Suspension of services

Other countries acted to minimize contact between customers and postal workers to prevent the spread of the disease. These announcements followed a familiar pattern and many were also driven by the suspension of flights around the world.

Honducor announced it was suspending services until 29 March and said it was operating in line with the strict measures introduced by the Honduran government. The postal operator asked other Posts sending mail by cargo plane to discontinue this practice, otherwise it would be forced to store mail in customs warehouses. Honducor said it was prepared to make an exception for humanitarian aid. Zimbabwean postal operator Zimpost announced in March that, following the suspension of flights into and out of the country, it was suspending all inbound and outbound international mail operations from 19 March until further notice.

In Hungary, Magyar Posta said it was reacting to the decision of the Hungarian government to introduce a state of emergency for 30 days starting 16 March. The postal operator said it was only able to pursue its activities in strict compliance with the short-term measures passed by the government. For this reason, and due to the cancellation of flights, it was unable to transport mail to a large number of countries. “Magyar Posta is no longer able to guarantee compliance with delivery standards, in particular with regard to quality of service and remuneration for all categories of mail items (letter-post, parcel-post and EMS items) until further notice,” said the message.

Keep the mail running

Although this article only provides a snapshot of the enormous challenges faced by postal operators in early 2020, it does give an indication of the sheer enormity of the problem – one never experienced during peacetime in this century or the last. It also shows Posts reacting to circumstances often outside their control, while also determined to act in the best interests of staff and customers. By doing so, they have shown dedication, resourcefulness and considerable courage when confronted by a pandemic that has steamrollered across borders and the best laid plans of many governments. For this continued dedication to the international postal network, they deserve the full respect of everyone on this planet.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of UPU’s Union Postale magazine. Subscribe now to be the first to receive content like this.