China's ride-hailing giant Didi readies dividers in cars vs coronavirus

Minghe Hu, South China Morning Post

Posted at Feb 20 2020 11:40 AM

People wearing face masks are seen at a subway station in the morning after the extended Lunar New Year holiday caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Shanghai, China Feb. 10, 2020. Aly Song, Reuters

BEIJING -- Didi Chuxing, China's largest ride-hailing services provider, is ramping up efforts in its industry to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus, with a nationwide program to install protective dividers between the driver and passenger seats in cars.

Beijing-based Didi plans to invest about 100 million yuan ($14.3 million) in this safety measure, which involves installing protective plastic sheets that are expected to prevent droplet transmission of the COVID-19 disease, according to the company's statement on Wednesday.

"Didi is implementing this and other anti-coronavirus initiatives, as public health officials call on citizens to use public transportation with caution," the company said. "This measure is popular among drivers and riders."

With guidance from medical professionals, Didi initially rolled out its protective divider program in a number of cities, including the southern coastal city of Shenzhen, Taiyuan in northern Shanxi province and in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei province and epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

Didi drivers can choose to install the protective screens in selected locations or on their own using the instructions provided.

A spokesman for Didi Chuxing declined to comment on the total number of cars under the ride-hailing platform, but said the company supported 30 million drivers as of 2018.

Didi's expanded safety measures have come amid industry difficulties in China, the world's biggest ride-hailing market, where the coronavirus outbreak has led to a slowdown in demand.

Despite aversion to using mass public transport at the present time, even ride-hailing is facing new problems after reports earlier this month of multiple drivers being diagnosed with coronavirus, clouding prospects for an industry already hit hard by government-imposed travel restrictions across the country.

There were more than 74,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 2,000 fatalities across mainland China as of Wednesday morning, according to data released by national and provincial health authorities.

Didi has already set up service stations for sterilizing cars, monitoring the temperature of drivers and distributing free facial masks in more than 148 cities across the country.

Other technology companies have also stepped up their own precautionary measures to help stop the coronavirus from spreading. Food delivery giant Meituan Dianping and Dida Chuxing, a rival of industry leader Didi, have each launched app-based systems that require commuters to provide their personal information by scanning QR codes. The data gathered details where people have been to determine if they have traveled with a person confirmed or suspected to have the coronavirus.

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