Online food delivery, the silver lining to the economic gloom set in by the coronavirus pandemic, is likely to take a massive blow in the capital after news of a pizza delivery agent testing COVID-19 positive in south Delhi went viral and raised alarm bells in the minds of the already terrified people.
A total of 89 families have been put under quarantine after a 19-year-old delivery agent from a restaurant in Malviya Nagar tested positive for the virus on April 14.
Many Delhiites on Thursday woke up to a barrage of messages on their WhatsApp groups strictly advising them not to order food from outside anymore.
"Our area is largely an open colony, so we cannot check everybody who is coming in. We have circulated the news clippings in the whatsapp groups, with a message: "Bhai, thode din ghar ka bana hi kha lo. Fizool main quarantine hone ka koi faida nahi hai" (Please for some days eat home-made food only, you won't be serving any purpose being quarantined due to this)," BS Vohra, East-Delhi RWAs Joint Front told PTI.
"We have been talking about this news in the RWA WhatsApp group since morning, but we don't know how to stop this. The government can perhaps take some steps, or at least instruct us to deploy some measures," he added.
While many had already bid goodbye to outside food after the lockdown was announced on March 24, there were others who couldn't resist the temptation for a meal from a restaurant at least on a few days.
This could change, after people realise that hassle-free does not always translate into risk-free, especially amid a global pandemic.
"My daughter is a big foodie. She would always pester me to order momos or burgers for outside. Many times I would try to entice her with home-made snacks. But it won't always work. So there were days when we ordered food online."
"Today when I watched this news of the delivery agent getting infected, I made it clear to my daughter that we won't be ordering online from now. She understood and agreed," said Vandana Thapa, a homemaker in her 40s.
Looking at the severity of the situation and fearing a dip in their online orders, food delivery platforms and several restaurants have reached out to their customers to reassure them of all the precautions taken at their end for their safety and well-being.
Zomato, the online platform service whose partner restaurant's delivery agent has tested positive in this incident, said they are constantly training their delivery partners on safety and hygiene in addition to providing masks to them.
"Fifty thousand plus restaurants which cover a majority of our order volume have set up hand sanitisation stations for delivery partners. We continue to ramp up our safety practices as we speak," a Zomato spokesperson told PTI.
The food delivery platform on Wednesday launched a new safety feature where users can see the body temperature of their delivery partner on its app.
That said, they did acknowledge that despite "best efforts'' home deliveries of essential services like food and grocery cannot be "risk-free".
"Customers should be cognisant of the risks involved and follow careful package handling practices if they are getting anything home delivered," he added.
Pizza giant Domino's or restaurants like The Baker's Dozen, Out Of The Blue and Deli By The Blue also reassured their customers by listing out all the safety measures in place.
"Understanding the current situation, we have taken some important measures for our staff and senior members and have made them stay quarantined at Hotel Le Sutra to maintain the utmost care and cleanliness discipline," said Rahul Bajaj, director and conceptualiser at Out Of The Blue and Deli By The Blue.
But, the fear that the incident would dent the food industry business further was palpable among many restauranteurs.
According to Karan Tanna, founder of Ghost Kitchens, there would be a drop of more than 50 per cent in people ordering food online. The sector had already seen a drastic drop due to the spread of coronavirus.
Anurag Katriar, president, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), too took notice of the event and admitted of "some impact of the incident on the consumer's mind".
However, Katriar used the analogy that like medical professionals, anyone working on ground zero can contract the virus and that it was no different for the delivery agent in question.
"Ideally, if medical services are not getting impacted when their staff is infected, this incident should not impact the restaurant deliveries either, but in the minds of the people the essentiality of the two services is different and rightly so.
"We have been very steadfast in our advisories to the restaurants, which was reiterated last evening that they need to follow the strictest form of hygiene with services and as well as goods," he added.
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 12,300 people and claimed at least 400 lives.