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    As China Shivers, a Hot Debate Over Risks of Food Delivery

    With delivery workers emphasizing the need to work despite the harsh conditions, top delivery companies are waiving late penalties, offering subsidies, and providing cold weather gear.

    With China’s delivery workers navigating icy roads and braving the extreme cold, an online debate has erupted over the dilemma of ordering food and supplies in such frigid conditions. 

    And with riders themselves stressing the necessity of work despite the conditions, major delivery companies have announced new measures to support their riders, including waiving penalties for late deliveries, offering weather subsidies, and distributing essential cold weather gear. 

    For thousands of delivery workers across China, the pressure to deliver orders on time is intense, as their earnings are significantly impacted by customer reviews and penalties for late deliveries. This often compels riders to speed through their routes, sometimes even putting themselves at risk. 

    As the cold wave continued to sweep across the country, debate unfolded on social media platforms such as Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, the video streaming app Bilibili, and the microblogging platform Weibo. 

    Apart from the weather, users also voiced concerns over the risk of accidents due to icy roads affecting electric delivery vehicles, and called for more patience from customers, with some even advocating for a temporary halt on takeout orders. 

    But in a video on Douyin on Dec. 15, a delivery worker in Beijing underscored that orders during such extreme weather significantly increased, thus allowing him to earn more money. 

    “I had over 90 orders today, earning almost 1,000 yuan ($140) due to various platform incentives for harsh weather conditions,” he stated in the video. “I left my hometown and came all the way here just to make more money. This is my chance.”

    Speaking to the Shanghai-based news outlet The Paper, 31-year-old Zhou Pengfei, a delivery rider from Pudong, said there were pros and cons in delivering orders in cold weather. While orders increased, the cold weather also made outdoor deliveries more challenging. 

    While on duty, he wears two pairs of socks, a helmet, gloves, and two sweaters but remains wary of rainy days when slippery roads increase the risk of accidents. “In our line of work, as long as you’re willing to endure hardships, you can still make money,” he was quoted as saying. 

    In response to the severe weather and associated risks, several food delivery platforms announced multiple measures to support their riders, including the suspension of penalties for late deliveries. 

    Meituan and, two of China’s top food delivery platforms, told domestic media that they have also increased order subsidies, extended delivery times, shortened delivery distances, and eliminated negative reviews to reduce the pressure on riders and limit their exposure to harsh outdoor conditions. 

    However, the extent of these emergency measures, including how many cities they cover and their application in other severe weather events, remains uncertain. Both and Meituan did not respond to inquiries from Sixth Tone regarding these details.

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: A delivery rider on a snowy day in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, Dec. 10, 2023. IC)