Amazon To Build Own Coronavirus Testing Lab

Image credit: Amazon

Company aims to institute Covid-19 testing on a large scale to monitor staff health as it faces criticism of its response to pandemic

Amazon has said it is building its own coronavirus testing facility in order to monitor the health of its staff, as the company is hit by ongoing criticism around its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 50 Amazon-owned facilities in the US have confirmed cases of Covid-19, with some locations including multiple affected individuals.

The company said last week it was assembling the equipment to build its first testing lab, and planned to begin testing a small number of frontline staff before scaling to the rest of the company.

Amazon has recently begun instituting anti-pandemic measures including taking the temperature of staff upon their arrival at work and spraying disinfectant on work stations.

Amazon Web Services
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos

Testing at scale

“A team of Amazonians with a variety of skills — from research scientists and programme managers to procurement specialists and software engineers — have moved from their normal day jobs on to a dedicated team to work on this initiative,” the company said.

It said large-scale testing could eventually help countries restart their economies.

“Unfortunately, today we live in a world of scarcity where Covid-19 testing is heavily rationed,” the company stated.

At least one Amazon location is under investigation by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Bloomberg reported.

The AVP1 facility in Pennsylvania is used to receive products from manufacturers, including from overseas, before distributing them to other Amazon facilities, where they are stored until ordered by customers.

Last week five US senators sent Amazon chief Jeff Bezos a letter demanding more information on the firing of Christian Smalls, a worker terminated after he led a walkout at an Amazon warehouse near New York City.

Labour disputes

Amazon said Smalls was fired for breaking social distancing rules, as he had been told to quarantine himself at home, but the senators, and several labour rights groups, have said the firing may have been a retaliation.

Other Amazon employees have complained of a shortage of protective equipment such as masks.

In spite of such controversies, Amazon has been one of the few companies whose businesses have benefited from the pandemic.

The company’s share price last week surpassing $1 trillion (£800m) for the first time since the novel coronavirus began to spread, and remained not far off its all-time high levels of mid-February.

By contrast, tech companies such as Airbnb whose businesses involve personal contact have struggled to adapt.

Airbnb last week said it would restrict UK bookings to key workers and “essential stays” until at least 18 April, a restriction timed to coincide with the Easter bank holiday.

The company has now disabled instant bookings for both whole properties and private rooms, with news website Techcrunch reporting that Airbnb is refocusing its business model on longer-term stays.

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