Covid lockdowns in China keep delivery people out of their homes – Digital Journal

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Authorities last year launched an investigation into food delivery platforms following allegations of exploitative labor practices – Copyright AFP/Jade GAO File

Matthew Walsh

Overworked, underpaid and completely fed up, Wang’s problems deepened further when authorities abruptly closed the delivery man’s apartment block in Beijing earlier this month.

In recent weeks, officials in the Chinese capital have doubled down on the country’s signature zero-COVID policy, one of a string of cities imposing sweeping lockdowns, mass testing and teleworking mandates as the number of cases has hit record highs. .

Wang isn’t the only one feeling frustrated.

The ruling Communist Party’s uncompromising zero-Covid strategy, now in place for about three years, has stoked anger and resentment, with widespread and sometimes violent protests in major cities across China.

Pandemic fatigue has been on the rise for some time, as a recent easing of virus restrictions coincided with record infection counts, prompting a patchwork of onerous restrictions in several major cities.

China is the last major economy committed to a zero-Covid strategy, but keeping the number of cases and deaths relatively low has constrained its economic recovery, disrupted supply chains and hit employment.

– ‘I do not have any other option’ –

Demand for deliveries has soared under the tightening restrictions as millions of city dwellers have turned to an army of low-paid couriers, mostly immigrants from other provinces, to supply packed lunches and grocery orders. .

But this time the restrictions have infiltrated deep into the places where drivers live, locking up many without pay and forcing others to choose between having a place to sleep and earning enough money to survive.

Wang, who shuttles around a wealthy financial district delivering food orders for internet giant Meituan, said his housing complex was cordoned off on November 7 after two cases of Covid were discovered.

Desperate not to lose his income — about 250 yuan ($34) a day — the 20-year-old broke lockdown rules by jumping over a fence to take his shifts, sneaking out under cover of darkness.

“I have no choice. If I don’t earn money, I can’t pay the rent,” said the native of the northern industrial province of Shanxi.

“A lot of delivery guys have nowhere to live right now,” he told AFP outside a deserted office block on a cold winter afternoon last week.

“I am really dissatisfied with the Chinese government, because other countries are not strict on covid anymore,” he said.

“We’re going to go this far… and I don’t feel like it’s necessary, because no one is dying from it.”

AFP withheld Wang’s full name to protect him from possible repercussions for breaking the lockdown and criticizing the state.

– Sleeping outdoors –

When it loomed over Gu Qiang’s housing complex last week, the Meituan driver chose to sleep in his car.

“Spending 30 yuan to keep the engine running all night is still cheaper than getting a hotel,” said the gruff northeast China native.

“Some of my friends live outside, they don’t dare to go home.”

Several couriers interviewed by AFP described heavier workloads in recent weeks as lockdowns have left their companies without a workforce.

While some said they were happy to take on additional orders that generated money, most said they had endured longer work hours, added stress, and more negative customer interactions.

They also said they had not received any additional support from Meituan or the companies to which delivery services have been outsourced.

Authorities last year launched an investigation into food delivery platforms following allegations of exploitative labor practices, including algorithms that effectively forced couriers to drive dangerously to meet tight delivery deadlines.

Meituan did not respond to an AFP request for comment before publication.

But the company told the state-run China Daily newspaper last week that it had paid for hotel rooms for some stranded workers and welcomed calls for help from couriers in similar situations.

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