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China Focus: "Homebody economy" gains steam amid epidemic

JINAN
2020-02-11 15:58

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As people are suggested to stay at home amid the novel coronavirus epidemic in China, the "homebody economy" is reaching a wider population across the country.

You Xiaoling taught the first online class in her 22-year career as a teacher. Zhang Weijia set a morning alarm for online grocery shopping on his phone. Zhang Tao began seeing doctors online.

The homebody economy often refers to booming on-demand streaming services, online shopping, food delivery, online education, working from home and gaming apps that can satisfy people's demand in the comfort of their own homes.

"I didn't know it's so convenient buying groceries on apps," said Zhang

Weijia, who is from Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province.

Like many, Zhang broke his habit of shopping in the local markets, and opted for fresh food delivery apps to avoid going out.

Due to such popularity, many apps have experienced pressure on supplies and manpower and started capping daily orders. So Zhang gets up early in the morning to place orders.

JD Fresh, the fresh food arm of Chinese e-commerce giant JD, saw orders rising 215 percent year on year in the first nine days of the Chinese Lunar New Year, company data showed.

Another fresh food delivery app Missfresh has seen its orders surge by 300 percent year on year during the epidemic outbreak, according to Wang Jun, CFO of the company.

"Our industry is often restrained by people's traditional consumption habits," Wang said. "With more people getting their hands on these services now, we expect the market to continue expanding and new business opportunities to emerge."

Other industries such as online teaching are also seeing users surge as schools across China are required to delay the opening of the spring semester.

"Online broadcasting is the 'trendiest' way of teaching I've ever seen in my career," teased You Xiaoling, who teaches at a high school in east China's Fujian Province.

You and many of her colleagues are new to online broadcasting, despite it being popular among their teenage students for several years.

"I ask my students to type '111' on the bullet screen if they understand me," You said. The bullet screen shows viewers' real-time comments and messages, a method popular on Chinese streaming sites.

Some teachers ask students for likes during the broadcast just as many online celebrities do, You said.

Over 20 online education agencies have rolled out free courses for students since the epidemic outbreak. Xueersi, one of the agencies, said student numbers surged on Feb. 1 when it launched free courses online, with an average of over 2 million viewers at each class.

Like teachers, many doctors have also forayed into online businesses as medical resources are stretched amid the epidemic.

On Feb. 8, China's National Health Commission issued a notice requiring health administrations at all levels to give full play to online medical consultations in the prevention and control of the epidemic.

Dozens of hospitals in Shandong Province have opened online fever clinic services, along with several hospitals in east China's Zhejiang Province.

China's online platforms including Alibaba and JD.com have also launched free consultation services, where thousands of professional doctors from all over the country are providing medical services.

Alibaba's service homepage received nearly 400,000 visits within 24 hours after being launched on Jan. 24, and Zhang Tao, from Qingdao in Shandong Province, is one of the users.

"Getting an initial diagnosis at home is very convenient," Zhang said. "I plan to use it in the future even if it costs some money."
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