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2022-12-21 10:16:57

Many Chinese cities are rallying local residents to temporarily join the delivery workforce, as mass COVID-19 infections cripple the sector that’s crucial in ferrying essential goods and services to millions every day.

Shanghai on Tuesday became the latest to launch the initiative, as the city’s e-commerce chamber encouraged individuals currently not working or those with spare time to take up delivery jobs — but with regular pay and no additional incentives. In the past few days, Chongqing, Kaifeng, and Yangzhou, as well as many districts in Beijing, have used similar tactics to tackle the shortage of delivery workers amid the current wave of infection, according to media reports.

“We encourage you to join the workforce and bring warmth to households in this special time,” the notice from the Shanghai E-Purchasing Chamber of Commerce said, while asking consumers to be more considerate of delayed deliveries and avoid direct contact during deliveries.

Chen Keyi, a Chongqing-based resident who recently quit his job at an internet company, told Sixth Tone that he registered to become a part-time delivery worker last weekend after noticing a limited capacity in his community.

“The platform now also offers a decent bonus for both the recruitment and the position,” the 23-year-old said, referring to extra payment for each delivery.

Following the easing of certain measures linked to the “zero-COVID” policy, the unchecked COVID outbreak has rattled the delivery system nationwide, with many couriers either falling sick or returning to their hometowns earlier for Lunar New Year. Last week, the total number of parcels across China dropped 9.8% compared with the same period in November, based on data from the national transportation department.

Residents in Shanghai, the eastern Shandong and Zhejiang provinces, as well as Guangdong province in the south told Sixth Tone they’ve experienced multiple issues in the past days — from the cancelation of orders and slow logistics to a hike in delivery charges. Shandong-based Zhang Xiao said her order for two boxes of milk had been canceled, while the oranges she bought had been stuck at a transfer facility for almost two weeks.

“It feels like society is semi-paralyzed and I’ve never experienced a situation like this in the past three years of the pandemic,” Zhang said.

The labor shortage has put additional stress on existing delivery workers, who now face longer working hours and increased workloads, domestic media reported.

In the wake of the looming crisis, the State Post Bureau has urged related enterprises to ensure the delivery of medication and other essential supplies to residents, especially to those in rural areas. On Tuesday, the food delivery giant Meituan told local media that the number of delivery drivers in Beijing had recovered to 90% of the usual number.

After vastly abandoning its COVID restrictions, China has been seeing an exponential surge of cases across the nation in the past two weeks. Experts suggest there will be 800 million infections in the next three months.

Amid mounting concerns that the outbreak could disrupt production across sectors, several cities — including Chongqing, Wuhu, and Guiyang — have allowed infected staff at state-owned institutions with mild or no symptoms to work. Hospitals have also been encouraging their medical personnel to do the same, as rising cases have been putting pressure on the medical system.

Additional reporting by Yang Caini; editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A view of a logistics center in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Dec. 20, 2022. VCG)