Spotlight on delivery workers in Beijing after viral letter of riders sleeping rough

Delivery riders in Beijing said that orders have gone up between 30 and 50 per cent since last Friday. ST PHOTO: AW CHENG WEI

BEIJING - As delivery rider Ke Maji made his way to a residential compound in Beijing’s Chaoyang district on Wednesday afternoon, he tried to ride slowly and steadily while balancing some 20 bags of groceries on his motorcycle.

When he arrived at his destination, he managed to park his motorcycle only after a few attempts to lift it and kick the centre stand into place. “The motorcycle is just so heavy because I have to send so many orders,” the 27-year-old rider told The Straits Times. “I’ve got used to the balancing, which was tricky at first, but I’m always surprised at how heavy the motorcycle is – with all the bags – whenever I try to park it.”

Concerns over the safety and welfare of delivery riders like Mr Ke have become more pronounced in Beijing recently as delivery orders shoot up.

More residents in the capital city are staying home to work and in-person classes in schools have been suspended to fight the latest surge of Covid-19 infections.

On Wednesday, Beijing reported 1,486 cases, with 1,098 asymptomatic infections.

Concerns over the welfare of delivery riders in Beijing arose on Tuesday night when an open call for help by a Mr Yang, who claims to be a rider for popular delivery app Meituan, went viral.

Mr Yang said that he and some 15 other riders have been homeless since Sunday, when their residential compound went into lockdown, and their landlord urged them not to return due to the crowded living space.

“We are also worried about the loss of income if we get locked down,” Mr Yang wrote, according to a screenshot shared online and seen by ST.

“Some of us are staying at delivery stations while others are sharing a room at cheap motels. But most have been sleeping at office buildings and restaurants.”

On Wednesday, Mr Yang shared a video of a hotel room on his WeChat account, saying that Meituan had arranged lodging for riders who had been living on the streets. He declined to be interviewed, while attempts by ST to reach Meituan were unsuccessful.

When financial hub Shanghai was under lockdown in April, reports of riders sleeping rough – in tents, under bridges and in convenience shops – after being turned away from their neighbourhoods or hotels sparked public outrage.

Delivery riders in Beijing said orders have gone up between 30 per cent and 50 per cent since last Friday, when health officials issued notices to various establishments, including restaurants, bars and gyms, that they should shut for three days.

Delivery orders have shot up in Beijing as more residents are staying home to work. ST PHOTO: AW CHENG WEI

The shutdowns have continued into the work week, with no sign of when shops could open again.

A Meituan delivery rider, who gave his name only as Mr He, 25, said he has been putting in four hours of overtime every day since last Saturday.

He makes about 10 yuan (S$1.90) for every delivery, depending on the bill and the distance travelled. His orders have gone up by 50 per cent. “I know of a lot of riders who are under lockdown, and I hope I won’t be next. I’m very afraid of losing income, and I think what I’m doing is helpful to the residents,” he said.

A looming sense that Beijing might be placed under lockdown have spurred grocery and meal deliveries. ST PHOTO: AW CHENG WEI

Asked what he will do if he finds himself homeless, he said: “I feel comfortable going to Meituan for help. The station manager is my friend.”

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