Jeff Bezos: Widespread coronavirus testing needed before economy can get running again

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Thursday that mass testing around the world for the coronavirus is needed to “get the economy back up and running.”

In his annual shareholder letter, Bezos also pointed to efforts Amazon has taken to protect its employees from the pandemic.

Bezos pointed to Amazon’s efforts to develop “incremental testing capacity,” which the company announced last week. As part of that announcement, Amazon said it hopes to begin testing all of its employees, including those who show no symptoms.

“Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running,” Bezos said. “For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available.”

Bezos detailed other steps Amazon has taken to curb the coronavirus, such as providing employees with face masks and distributing temperature checks for warehouse workers, delivery drivers and Whole Foods employees. He added that Amazon temporarily closed some of its physical stores, including Amazon Books, Amazon 4-star and Amazon Pop Up stores as they don’t sell essential products, and offered those store employees roles in other parts of the company.

Despite the new safety measures, Amazon workers from at least three facilities have staged protests to call for the company to close facilities where there are positive cases of the virus. A dozen workers told CNBC they felt Amazon needed to provide employees with paid time off, among other concerns.

Amazon’s logistics and delivery systems have been under some strain since the pandemic worsened across the globe. Due to a surge in online orders, the company was forced to prioritize shipments of essential goods at its fulfillment centers, resulting in longer delivery times and a rare disruption to its typical two-day and one-day delivery windows.

Bezos said unlike the typical holiday shopping season, the surge over the last few months “occurred with little warning, creating major challenges for our suppliers and delivery network.” For that reason and others, Bezos added that his “own time and thinking” continues to be focused on the coronavirus.

“I am extremely grateful to my fellow Amazonians for all the grit and ingenuity they are showing as we move through this,” Bezos said. “You can count on all of us to look beyond the immediate crisis for insights and lessons and how to apply them going forward.”

Amazon had 798,000 full-time and part-time employees as of Dec. 31 and has hired more than 100,000 new employees since March to deal with coronavirus demands and plans to add 75,000 more jobs.

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