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  • Uber said it might suspend the accounts of passengers and drivers diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
  • Uber said it would give "financial assistance" to suspended drivers for 14 days, but didn't give further detail.
  • The ride-hailing company is also handing out disinfectant to drivers to keep their vehicles clean, but said supplies are limited.
  • The coronavirus outbreak has thrown the precarity of gig economy workers into sharp relief, since they rarely have the right to sick pay.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Uber notified riders and drivers that it may temporarily suspend the accounts of anyone who has tested positive for the coronavirus or have been exposed to it, the ride-hailing company said on Wednesday.

The company said it would offer financial assistance for 14 days to suspended cab and delivery drivers. The company didn't go into detail, and it isn't clear that Uber's financial assistance would directly match lost earnings.

Uber treats its drivers as contractors rather than employees, meaning they are not entitled to sick pay and other rights.

The company, which has already taken action in some affected markets, said it had a team working around-the-clock to support public health authorities in their response to the epidemic.

Uber laid out the company's detailed policy on the outbreak for all riders and drivers on its website, outlining the steps the company has taken to manage the situation.

"We have a dedicated global team, guided by the advice of a consulting public health expert, working to respond in every market where we operate around the world," Uber said.

"We've already helped drivers in some affected areas, and we're working to quickly implement this worldwide."

Uber last month suspended 240 accounts of users in Mexico who may recently have come in contact with someone possibly infected with the new coronavirus.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has highlighted the precarity of gig economy workers, such as Uber drivers. In the UK, lawmakers called on Uber and rival ride-hailing firm Ola to offer sick pay and other worker rights, as well as additional allowance to any driver diagnosed with the disease.

Wes Streeting, an MP for the UK's Labour party, said in a statement: "The coronavirus risk has thrown into sharp relief just how vulnerable workers in the gig economy are to bouts of illness and the resulting loss of pay.

"Many drivers will feel compelled to carry on working when they're unwell, potentially putting themselves and others at risk. Operators must act immediately to reassure drivers and the travelling public that they'll treat drivers with the fairness, compassion and respect they're owed."

In the US, gig workers have petitioned their companies for sick leave.

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