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How Chinese tech companies are responding to the coronavirus outbreak

Companies have taken a series of measures to contain the illness.

Photo: Tuchong

The 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, was first detected in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province. It has been identified as a cousin of SARS, which claimed nearly 800 lives in 2002–03. As of January 21, 2019-nCoV has killed nine people and infected 440 individuals with pneumonia, state-owned People’s Daily reported, citing data released during a press conference held by China’s State Council on Wednesday. There are also confirmed cases in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States.

Chinese authorities have adopted strict prevention and control measures. Patients experiencing pneumonia symptoms are placed under quarantine, and individuals who have been in close contact with them undergo medical observation.

Zhong Nanshan, who leads a panel of experts at the National Health Commission, and who was the head of the Guangdong research institute for respiratory diseases during the SARS epidemic, has recognized that the virus is now transmittable between humans. During a televised interview with CCTV, he called on people to delay visits to Wuhan, and asked residents of the Hubei capital to remain within city limits unless there is an urgent need for outbound travel.

With Chinese tech companies’ services present in many facets of daily life—retail, travel, and more—these enterprises are implementing measures to ensure that the interests of consumers, partners, and employees are protected at a time when habits and routines undergo temporary changes.

E-commerce platforms are banning price hikes for medical masks

Alibaba’s C2C e-commerce platform Taobao said on its Weibo feed late Tuesday night that all merchants on Taobao and Tmall are prohibited from raising the prices of face masks. Group-buying platform Juhuasuan, which is accessible in Taobao’s app, will subsidize users who purchase face masks. Alihealth, which provides goods and services related to the medical industry, will keep its delivery service running during the Lunar New Year holiday, so that residents in cities including Wuhan, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chengdu can purchase and receive medicine and face masks if needed.

Other popular e-commerce platforms like Suning.com, JD.com, and Pinduoduo are implementing similar measures so that the prices of masks remain stable. A pack of ten medical masks is priced as low as RMB 18.90 (USD 2.70) on Pinduoduo.

Ride-hailing platforms offer free cancellations and protection for drivers

Ant Financial-backed Hello Chuxing is relaxing its ride cancellation policy for Wuhan between January 18 and February 2. If a driver or passenger using Hello Chuxing’s hitchhiking service cancels an order, they will not be charged any fees. Hello will cover compensation for the relevant parties during this period.

China’s largest ride-hailing platform Didi Chuxing is also offering free cancellation for trips within Wuhan from January 21 to 31, though this is limited to patients who have been infected with 2019-nCoV and individuals who have had close contact with them. Didi is also handing out masks and sanitizer liquids to its drivers.

Online travel agencies offer free cancellations

Trip, which was previously known as Ctrip, said on Tuesday that hotel bookings, tickets for tourist attractions, and transportation bookings made for Wuhan between January 21 and 31 can be cancelled with no penalty fees. Alibaba’s Fliggy and Meituan Dianping have similar policies.

On-demand service providers guard delivery fleets from infection

Meituan-Dianping is providing masks to its drivers, particularly those working in Wuhan. The company is also providing thermometers and hand sanitizers at stations where delivery agents congregate.

It has suspended food delivery services near some hospitals in Wuhan to keep its couriers away from critical areas. Alibaba’s Ele.me has implemented similar measures.

Food delivery platforms are removing listings of wild game

JD Daojia announced on Wednesday that it has delisted all foods made of meat of wild animals from its platform.

Meituan said on Tuesday that it has started to examine such foods on its platforms and are removing their listings and vendors together.

Tencent cancels red packet dole-out

Tencent has cancelled its annual red packet handout that was scheduled for February 1. Normally, on the first day back to work after the Lunar New Year break, founder Pony Ma and other executives amble through the office to give out red packets stuffed with cash to employees.

The company did not state an explicit reason for scrapping the activity, but said that any employee that feels unwell should take time off to avoid infecting other individuals at work.