China’s ride-hailing services market, the world’s largest, faces challenging times amid reports of multiple drivers being diagnosed with the coronavirus, clouding prospects for an industry already hit hard by government-imposed travel restrictions across the country.
“The [coronavirus] epidemic will have a substantial impact on the ride-hailing industry because there is a probability of getting infected [by the drivers],” said Sun Naiyue, an analyst at research firm Analysys, who covers China’s broader mobility sector. “The demand has also been decreasing, as people are not going out.”
Concerns have risen over potential infections after a driver on Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing platform, was diagnosed with the coronavirus in the past few days – one of the first confirmed cases in the industry.
Based in central Henan province, the driver stopped working on Didi rides after Jan 20, went to a clinic on Jan 29 after feeling unwell and was diagnosed on Feb 5, according to Didi’s post on microblogging platform Weibo.
“Didi is in touch with the driver and will provide extra subsidy for him during the treatment,” the company said. “We have provided relevant information to the local government, and are working closely with them on virus prevention and control.”
A Didi spokesman declined further comment beyond what it said in the Weibo post.
Local news reports so far indicate there are at least five cases of taxi and ride-hailing drivers being diagnosed with the coronavirus. A driver in southern Hainan province, for example, continued to work via multiple ride-hailing platforms even after showing symptoms of the disease on Jan 27.
The local government said this driver, who kept working until he went to hospital on Jan 31, was diagnosed with the disease on Feb 4, according to reports.
The governments in Beijing and Shanghai have recently announced measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus on taxi and ride-hailing services. Drivers have been directed to wear face masks, open the window after each ride and disinfect their vehicles regularly.
Such precautionary measures have gained urgency as the coronavirus outbreak has caused 636 fatalities and 31,453 confirmed cases in mainland China as of Friday, according to data released by national and provincial health authorities.
“Many local governments have imposed rules for these services to disinfect cars and some companies like Didi are pursuing self-regulation,” said Sun from Analysys.
In more than 106 cities across the country, Didi has set up service stations that provide free facial masks and disinfectants, as well as support for sterilising cars and monitoring the temperature of drivers.
Didi has ceased its ride-hailing operation in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province and epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. The company, however, has deployed special fleets of drivers equipped with protective uniforms to give free rides to all hospital staff in the city, according to its post on WeChat.
Sun from Analysys expects the industry to eventually recover. “When people return to work, many may still choose to take a taxi or a ride-hailing service over public transport systems, which are way more crowded and increase the risk of getting infected,” Sun said. – South China Morning Post
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