China Turns to Internet for Food Supplies Amid Virus Fears

Wang Feng, house-bound by China’s virus outbreak, counts on the parka-clad delivery drivers of e-commerce giant to keep her kitchen stocked, The Associated Press reports.

Demand for online food vendors has surged since China’s government told the public to stay home as part of the most sweeping anti-disease controls ever imposed.

On Tuesday, Wang’s phone buzzed with a text message that a delivery had arrived. The retiree bundled up against the winter cold, put on a face mask and emerged from her apartment complex to collect walnut milk and other goods from shelves on the sidewalk — an anti-virus measure to limit contact with drivers who normally go door to door.

“They work really hard, and it’s dangerous,” said Wang. “Without their services, we would not be able to survive at all.” Inc. and rivals including Pinduoduo, Missfresh Inc. and Alibaba Group’s Hema are scrambling to fill a boom in orders while trying to protect their employees, AP added.

E-commerce is one of the few industries to thrive after anti-virus controls starting in late January closed factories, restaurants, cinemas, offices, and shops nationwide and extinguished auto and real estate sales.

The government is trying to revive economic activity but has told anyone who can work from home to stay there. Some cities have imposed controls that allow only one member of a family out each day. That creates a ready market for online entertainment and shopping.

“I can’t go out and can’t go to work,” said one of Wang’s neighbors, Chen Guang, who was picking up a box of vegetables from the sidewalk shelves under a sign that said, “Contactless Distribution Point”.

Chen, who wore an entry pass for his apartment complex around his neck, said he shops online two to three times a week to replenish kitchen supplies.

JD says over the past month, its drivers delivered 71,500 tons of rice, flour and other grains — 20 times more than the same period last year — 27 million liters of cooking oil and 50,000 tons of meat, eggs, vegetables, and other fresh products.

Pinduoduo said orders for apples, strawberries and other fresh fruit from its 586,000 sellers of agricultural products were up 120% in January.

Disease fears in other Asian markets also have propelled e-commerce demand for food and hygiene supplies. The Korea Economic Daily said online mask sales in South Korea rose 37,000% in January over a year earlier, AP added.

Chinese e-commerce companies emerged in a market that lacked credit cards, reliable delivery and other features their counterparts in the United States and Europe take for granted. That required JD, Alibaba and some other competitors to create their own online payment systems or networks of warehouses and delivery drivers.

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