COVID-19 maybe shutting down most of Canada but it’s full speed ahead for Canada Post throughout the Northwest Territories.
That’s why the postal service is putting in place added safeguards to protect workers who remain on the front lines, as well as customers who are becoming increasingly reliant on package deliveries as local retailers shutter their doors in the age of coronavirus.
Loretta Kaminski, vice-president of local 858 which represents Canada Post postal workers in Yellowknife, said in an interview last week that “there will be some sort of barrier” in the coming days at the Canada Post office in Yellowknife.
In the meantime, other measures announced on March 23 have been put in place, including:
- reduced hours with the post office opening one hour later and closing one hour earlier (10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.),
- providing the first hour of service everyday for the elderly or those with disabilities
- a requirement that customers remain two metres apart from one another
- encouraging customers to use credit or debit for purchases.
Loblaws last week was among other companies that serve Yellowknife that announced sweeping safety changes to its operations. Among those changes was the installation of plexi-glass dividers at the checkouts and pharmacy.
Jon Hamilton, a spokesperson for Canada Post said Monday that a barrier between customers and employees is still to be put in place in the coming days but could not specify a date. He said Canada Post has been working closely with federal, provincial and territorial health authorities to ensure health measures are put in place and that it takes time to change workplace practices and facilities for 6,000 locations across the country.
“We have been following the recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada as well as provincial and territorial health authorities and in the NWT in terms of following social distancing guidelines and in terms of cleanliness and disinfecting and other measures,” Hamilton said. “We want to make sure we protect not just employees but anyone we serve.”
There are 37 full and part-time employees in the NWT.
High demand during coronavirus
Hamilton said the North is a high demand area for Canada Post services in normal times because of the lack of retail stores. In the last few weeks, the demand has been even higher as local retail options have become even less available because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have seen in communities in the Far North and obviously the more remote communities, that there has been more dependence on the post office service, especially with online shopping in recent years because we are able to provide goods that are either expensive or that they are unable to access,” Hamilton said, noting prescriptions, care packages and even cheques are popular items.
“We know we provide a valuable service at the best of times, but at times like this we can provide access (to goods) and we are proud to do so.”
Hamilton couldn’t put a number on the volume of goods that come through Canada Post at regular times vs the recent pandemic, but he said there has been a notable increase throughout the North compared to other areas of Canada in recent weeks.
“We have seen an increase in the Far North and an uptick in demand while across the country demand seems to be holding steady,” he said.
Hamilton said people who receive notices for packages are being asked to pick them up as soon as possible to avoid a backlog of items in storage. A news release from last week states that parcels left at the post-office for pickup won’t be returned-to-sender until further notice. The typical 15-day hold period has also been suspended.
“Knock , Drop and Go” and parcel delivery changes
Other safety precautions for employees this month include how parcels are being delivered. Postal delivery employees will leave parcels at the safest location available and then leave for the next address.
“This change eliminates the need for signatures at the door and greatly reduces the number of parcels sent to our post offices for pick-up,” states the news release.
Items requiring proof of age, personal identification or customs payments will be sent to the retail post office for pick up.
“We eliminated the need for signatures on a lot of items at the door and what we call “knock and drop and go” – there is no interaction and no handing over signatures,” Hamilton said.
Although there has been some concern about the virus being spread through parcel deliveries, safety measures have been taken as best as can be at the Yellowknife mail processing plant at the airport, says Kaminski.
“As far as I know everything is fine out there and cleaners are doing a deep clean every single night, said Kaminski last week. “They have masks, gloves and sanitizers and everything available and I’ve not heard anything otherwise. I am in constant contact with local area manager all the time.”
Kaminski said management has been working well with employees and union members in providing regular daily updates as the workplace evolves in light of the coronavirus.
Clearing the lobby
Kaminski said the biggest concern employees at the Yellowknife post office have is with some people who are homeless or transient and who frequent the lobby.
“Honestly the only thing that concerns us is trying to keep individuals out of the lobby (of the downtown post office),” she said. “That is our biggest concern and they congregate in the corner hanging out.
“When the day shelter opened it kind of slowed down everything but we still have a group of individuals that still like to hang out and more often than not we are out there constantly telling them to leave.”
She said it is most concerning now with the potential spread of the coronavirus between people n close contact.