Meituan calls for backup as Shanghai’s lockdown leads to scramble for food


The company announced Thursday that it had rolled out a host of new measures in China’s financial hub, where complaints of high mental stress, and a lack of access to food and basic necessities, have emerged since authorities decided to extend stay-home measures indefinitely.

At a press conference with Shanghai officials, Meituan Vice President Mao Fang said that the company would introduce «urgent deliveries,» or next-day group deliveries, community bulk buying for meals and groceries, and autonomous delivery vehicles.

Shanghai, a major business center that is home to 25 million people, has become the epicenter of China’s latest coronavirus outbreak, as well as the latest test of its «zero-Covid» strategy.

As of Thursday, the city had reported more than 130,000 cases since its latest wave began in March.

Residents have been scrambling to access fresh food for weeks as panic over the lockdown ensued, with supermarket shelves wiped clean and many users waking up early to try to order groceries online.

Meituan’s service aims to ease those challenges — allowing users living in the same community to place orders together and receive them the next day, said Mao.

Priority is given to neighborhoods with «closed residential compounds and greater distribution pressure,» she added.

«The difficulty of buying vegetables reflected by the public is mainly due to the lack of sorting and distribution capacity,» the executive said at the media briefing. «To this end, Meituan has called nearly a thousand skilled sorting personnel from around the country to help.»

As of Thursday, Meituan said it had delivered more than 200,000 orders through its emergency program, and planned to extend the service to other areas.

The company has also deployed a fleet of self-driving vans in Pudong, located in the eastern half of the city, to help dispatch daily supplies.

Widespread disruption

Businesses have been forced to adjust.

In recent days, various sectors have been hit, with Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory suspending production and the city’s main port suffering higher congestion.Last week, some Chinese banks and investment firms even called on essential staff to live at the office to avoid any trading disruption during the lockdown.

Shanghai’s lockdown was initially slated to last just a few days for each half of the city.

But this week, authorities said that restrictions would continue until further notice, as the government needed to «test more, review results, transfer positive cases and analyze the overall Covid situation.»

Meituan is one of China’s top tech companies and leading food delivery providers, with a platform that boasts more than 667 million active users.

Despite the new measures, its shares were down nearly 2% in Hong Kong on Friday.

«In Asia, markets are growing warier about China as the Shanghai lockdown drags on,» Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at Oanda, wrote in a note to clients.

«China’s Covid-zero policy continues to be its Achilles heel although there are plenty of other reasons to be a little cautious.»

— CNN’s Yong Xiong in Seoul contributed to this report.