BEIJING – Since the coronavirus outbreak in China, delivery rider Wu Jun always took extra precautions on the job.
He kept a bottle of disinfectant on his electric scooter to sanitise his hands after every order and made the extra effort not to touch his face.
But when news broke last Tuesday (June 23) that a delivery rider working for the Ele.me platform had been diagnosed with Covid-19, Mr Wu, who works for a courier company, said he “felt a moment of panic”.
“While we don’t send as many orders as those on the food delivery platforms, we still come into contact with many people,” he said.
He was among 100,000 delivery riders – ranging from those who deliver food and groceries to those who send online shopping packages – ordered to undergo nucleic acid testing for the coronavirus, the same way the Ele.me rider’s case was detected.
The 47-year-old man, who has been identified by local media as Mr Kong, delivered up to 50 orders a day in Beijing’s Fengtai district, ground zero for the new outbreak linked to a sprawling wholesale market in the area.
Since the first case surfaced on June 11, over 300 cases linked to the market have been detected in the capital alone, with dozens more related cases in several other provinces, ranging from neighbouring Hebei province to the northeastern Liaoning, over 400km away.
Beijing city authorities have tried to avoid a full lockdown as they battle the virus but have cordoned off several districts while ordering mass testing for targeted groups of people, including market workers, food handlers and ride-hailing drivers.
The authorities said on Sunday that samples from some 8.2 million residents had been taken and that 7.6 million had been processed . All those ordered to undergo mandatory testing had been tested, officials told a news conference. A lack of processing facilities had earlier led to a backlog.
Ordered again to remain indoors, Chinese consumers have turned to the Internet to fulfil their shopping and dining needs, relying on an army of couriers and deliverymen to send their packages to their doorstep.
The case of Mr Kong sparked a panic, with many wondering if one could be infected by such packages, with discussion on social media platforms going into overdrive.
But many comments were quickly scrubbed, like most sensitive matters. As China attempts to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has encouraged domestic consumption in a bid to bolster the economy, with a focus on e-commerce.
All that remained were netizens discussing Mr Kong’s 16-hour work days and the stress he must be going through.
“Working 16 hours a day, making a living is not easy,” read one Weibo comment, “please get well soon.”
There were also multiple reassurances from health officials that ordering takeaway and online shopping are still relatively safe, reminding Beijingers to continue observing good hygiene, to opt for contactless delivery and to wash one’s hands immediately after opening delivered packages.
“While the government has been urging for contactless delivery, most people want us to deliver food to their doors ever since housing estates have reopened,” said Mr Feng Yisheng, a delivery rider who works for a major platform.
“If we don’t agree to it, we end up getting a bad rating and this will affect our jobs,” he added.
Unlike Mr Wu, who delivers items like documents and packages city-wide, Mr Feng focuses on a much smaller delivery radius, mostly sending takeaway and grocery orders.
“It’s quite normal to take up to 50 orders a day, because we need to meet a quota. I won’t lie, it’s hard work, but if I had other skills I wouldn’t do this,” he said.