As the coronavirus continues to sweep the globe, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has suggested that his company could soon start regularly testing its hundreds of thousands of employees for COVID-19 — including those who aren’t exhibiting any symptoms.
In a letter to shareholders on Thursday morning, the billionaire founder revealed that the e-commerce behemoth has begun building “incremental testing capacity” with a team of research scientists, program managers and software engineers. These professionals, said Bezos, have shifted from their typical day-to-day responsibilities to work on an initiative that would result in Amazon’s first lab, which would begin testing “small numbers” of its “front-line” employees.
“Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running. For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available,” Bezos wrote. “If every person could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we fight this virus.”
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According to The New York Times, Bezos was among the big-business executives who joined a Wednesday morning call with President Donald Trump, who said that COVID-19 testing was “under control.” However, the report added there was a “wide consensus” that more testing would be necessary before the economy could reopen.
Over the past few weeks, Seattle-based Amazon said it has distributed face masks and implemented temperature checks at warehouses and distribution centers around the world. It said it has also continued to sanitize its facilities, has introduced social distancing measures and has required six hours of safety training for new employees.
As it seeks to keep up with a coronavirus-related surge in demand, Amazon is in the process of hiring 75,000 workers — on top of the 100,000 new workers it has hired since mid-March. The company has increased its minimum wage through the end of April by $2 per hour in the United States, CA$2 per hour in Canada, 2 pounds per hour in the United Kingdom and 2 euros per hour in other European countries. It expects to spend more than $500 million in total to boost wages during the pandemic.
“The demand we are seeing for essential products has been and remains high. But unlike a predictable holiday surge, this spike occurred with little warning, creating major challenges for our suppliers and delivery network,” added Bezos. “We quickly prioritized the stocking and delivery of essential household staples, medical supplies and other critical products.”
Amazon is classified as an essential retailer in the U.S., allowing it to continue operating its warehouses even in the states and localities that have implemented stay-at-home orders. (Amazon Books, 4-Star and pop-up stores are currently closed.) Yesterday, the company made headlines after a French court ordered it to limit deliveries to only essential goods, noting that officials would be able to better examine whether the online powerhouse was taking the adequate safety precautions to protect its associates.
On its home turf of the U.S., similar concerns over a purported lack of protections for employees have also been raised. In late March, 15 workers at Amazon’s Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse participated in a demonstration that sought to call out its workplace conditions after an employee at the facility tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
In recent weeks, multiple reports have indicated that workers at dozens of Amazon warehouses and facilities had contracted COVID-19, which has sickened more than 2.08 million people around the world and killed at least 139,400.
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