Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Amazon turns to thermal cameras to detect coronavirus spread in warehouses

Thermal imaging could help detect unwell workers, as well as who they have come in contact with.

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Amazon has begun rolling out cameras equipped with thermal imaging technology to trace suspected coronavirus cases in warehouses. 

According to employees speaking to Reuters, the e-commerce giant is using the cameras to screen and check workers employed in at least six US facilities in the Los Angeles and Seattle regions. 

Thermal imaging cameras measure infrared radiation in order to pinpoint temperature and warmer objects, such as humans or animals. If the cameras flag a potential fever in someone, the member of staff is then checked with a forehead thermometer to see if their temperature is high enough to raise concern. 

See also: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Amazon has confirmed that some locations are now equipped with the cameras and staff temperatures are being checked "to support the health and safety of our employees, who continue to provide a critical service in our communities."

A number of Amazon's Whole Foods stores will also have their entrance thermometers replaced by thermal cameras systems. 

One employee told Reuters that the camera system is a quicker alternative to traditional screening. As thermal imaging does not require workers to queue, this may help prevent transmission caused by forcing individuals into close proximity.  

A high temperature is one of the symptoms that some individuals infected with the novel coronavirus demonstrate. While some do not display any symptoms, others will experience a high temperature, fever, fatigue, and shortness of breath. 

At the time of writing, there are 2.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Approximately 759,000 cases have been reported in the United States. 

According to the publication, workers at over 50 of Amazon's US warehouses have been reported as suspected coronavirus cases, leading to worries concerning safety, social distancing, and transmission. 

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When cases have been brought to Amazon's attention in the past few weeks, the company has temporarily closed down some warehouses and distribution centers for deep cleans, as well as enforced the quarantine of workers believed to either have COVID-19 or those who had come into close contact with them.

Last week, Amazon temporarily shut down six fulfillment centers in France, now extended to April 22, following a court order that required the company to either close them down or severely restrict their operations to protect workers from COVID-19. 

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Amazon told us it was "perplexed by the court's decision" given the "huge investment" made to improve the safety of staff members working throughout the outbreak.

In related news, reports suggest that Amazon's major shopping event of the year, Prime Day, will be postponed until at least August. 

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