A video of Shanghai delivery workers spending the night under the Wuning Road Bridge recently went viral, highlighting the struggles of the city’s food distribution network during the coronavirus lockdown that began in late March.
Applying pandemic control and prevention measures while securing food supplies has proven to be a delicate balance for city authorities.
Under lockdown, an estimated 90% of delivery workers are confined to their residential compounds, complicating the logistics of getting food to households in the same situation.
Among the city’s few mobiles, nearly 20,000 food and parcel delivery workers are allowed out of lockdown, Shanghai authorities announced on April 22. Most are housed in hotel rooms reserved by their employers. Some sleep on the streets.
The video of the delivery men sleeping under the bridge touched the public. An enthusiastic Changning District resident ordered 150 bento boxes from a nearby convenience store and delivered them to the bridge site, according to shnews990.
And a local business has transformed one of its meeting rooms into a pop-up lounge. The delivery people who stay there have bought an electric pot and can now cook modestly.
The Shanghai Daily spoke to two delivery men to find out how they are doing.
Xu Dawei spent four nights under the Wuning Road Bridge until his employer, food delivery giant Meituan, put him up in a hotel room near the Shanghai train station.
The 22-year-old came to Shanghai last month from his hometown of Suqian in Jiangsu province to work as a full-time delivery man for Meituan. Before that, he had tried unsuccessfully to start a business.
“I chose to come to Shanghai as a delivery man because it seemed like a job where the payoff matched the reward, and there were more opportunities here,” he explained. “But I didn’t expect to be in this situation so soon after arriving.”
Unfamiliar with Shanghai and unaware at first that Meituan was providing hotel accommodation, Xu started working with only his cell phone, charging equipment and pandemic prevention materials provided by the company.
“I didn’t bring anything heavy,” he explained. “When I noticed some quarters had leftover cardboard from unloaded supplies, I thought I could use them as mattresses at night.”
When he left work at midnight on the first day, he had to find a place to sleep. He remembered crossing the Wuning Road bridge earlier and finding a niche to curl up there.
“There were more buildings around there,” he said. “So I thought it might be warmer than other places.”
Sleeping below deck on cardboard, with his arm a pillow, lasted several days. On April 5, her manager phoned her to inquire about her well-being. When she found out he was sleeping rough, she booked him into a hotel.
“Seeing a tidy bedroom and remembering the cardboard box I had slept on for four days made me want to both laugh and cry,” he said.
With so many delivery people off work, Xu has a heavy workload. He often delivers 150 takeout orders a day and frequently works until 1am.
“And contrary to online rumors,” he said, “we don’t make tens of thousands of yuan a day in income. I’m making about 800 or 900 yuan ($123-138) a day lately. – the normal range for delivery people.”
According to Xu, most of the orders are for food, but medicine is also in high demand.
“It often takes half an hour to queue to pick up medicine from the pharmacy,” he said.
Regardless of what time he arrives for a delivery in the neighborhood, local volunteers helping with the lockdown wait at the entrance to the compound to receive the delivery and disinfect the package, he said.
Meituan said the company’s platform has 500 hotels, dormitories and other places to accommodate delivery people. All are controlled by the authorities. For those who cannot stay in a hotel, Meituan provides sleeping bags and tents.
According to Xu, the hotel where he is staying has a designated disinfection area for delivery people and undergoes daily disinfection.
“Every day I get a nucleic acid test,” Xu said.
Another delivery man, Qu Rizhuo, in his 20s, is from Shanxi province and works for Ele.me. One of the first delivery workers to return to work after a total lockdown, he stayed at a hotel in Yangpu district.
“Before we came to work, the manager booked hotel rooms for us,” Qu said. “The accommodation is good, but we are struggling to eat properly.”
Qu leaves the hotel at 7am and works until 11pm. He said it was a relief that the platform is no longer very strict about meeting delivery times due to the current circumstances. Customers are also very understanding when deliveries are late.
Qu said he was exhausted at the end of each day and didn’t have enough food for himself. He survives on instant noodles.
“I buy 12 boxes of instant noodles at the hotel for almost 100 yuan ($15.40),” he said. “There’s nothing else I can achieve.”
Xu told the Shanghai Daily that he received meals from kind-hearted residents.
“A lady I used to deliver to had been buying me meals for days,” he explained. “She places an order in advance and tells me to pick it up. And she doesn’t ask for anything in return.”
A spokesperson for Ele.me said the platform has arranged with dozens of hotels to host delivery people free of charge during the lockdown. A 24-hour service line is available for deliverers to inquire about accommodations, nucleic acid testing, and any other questions related to their job and containment.
Another popular e-commerce platform, Freshippo, recently announced a partnership with Chinese online travel agency Fliggy and third-party hotel platforms to provide hundreds of rooms for couriers.
Meanwhile, Shanghai officials announced on April 22 that the city was encouraging the construction of contemporary accommodation areas to improve delivery people’s access to meals, showers, rest and nucleic acid testing. The city currently has 143 such zones.
Ten of the areas are in the downtown Xuhui district, housing more than 800 delivery people. A poster in one area thanked delivery people for “connecting the city”.
The first batch of 11 such areas in Huangpu District can accommodate more than 500 people.
In Minhang district, the government has arranged for professional staff to train delivery workers in pandemic prevention, including disinfection measures and proper use of protective clothing.