China’s largest food delivery company Meituan-Dianping said on Sunday on its official Weibo account that it has rolled out a set of measures to help merchants cope with the financial complications caused by the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak.
On the heels of its major rival Alibaba, Meituan announced that restaurants providing delivery services in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, will have all commission fees waived in February.
Merchants offering in-store services including dining and entertaining in Wuhan will also enjoy a one-month commission fee waiver, and will have a two-month free extension on their annual advertising plans on Meituan-Dianping’s platforms.
Meituan’s other measures include pneumonia insurance coverage for employees of restaurants in Wuhan, microloans with preferential interest rates for merchants nationwide, and free online training courses for merchants on epidemic control, food safety, and restaurant management, said the company.
Despite the initiative, some netizens criticized the company for only granting fee waiver policies to merchants located in Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei province, saying that vendors in places other than Wuhan also need support as they are also affected by the virus outbreak.
Just three days earlier, Alibaba’s local consumer service arm announced a one-month commission fee waiver for nationwide merchants on Koubei platform, which is designed to guide diners to restaurants, and a three-month free extension on annual advertisement plans. Ele.me, the local service arm’s food delivery platform announced on January 23 that it would cut or waive commission fees for its merchants in Wuhan gradually but did not provide details.
The 2019-nCov virus has claimed 361 lives in China as of 7:29 pm Monday. There are 17,335 confirmed infections, and more than 21,558 patients are suspected to be infected.
Shenzhen authorities confirmed on Sunday that a food delivery man has been confirmed to be infected with the virus, adding that in the 14 days before contracting the virus, he had been delivering food in the city. The authorities did not reveal which platforms he had worked for or how many customers he had served.
In most Chinese cities, people have been advised to remain at home to reduce the risk of infection. The retail and dining sectors have been most affected since the start of the outbreak, said Ren Zeping, chief economist with China Evergrande Group, a major real estate developer.
He predicted that the aggregate sales in the retail and dining sectors during this year’s Lunar New Year holiday might have dropped by 50% to RMB 500 billion (USD 71 billion). Based on this projection, Ren further estimated the country’s overall economy to slow down to a 4% year-on-year growth rate in the first quarter, adding that the situation may even deteriorate.
Meituan has also adapted its food delivery service so riders don’t have to meet face-to-face with customers, the BBC reported on Friday.
The report was updated on February 6 to include Ele.me’s policy.