Chinese food delivery service Ele.me has launched an initiative to deliver meals to medical staff working in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The company has gathered 100 restaurants, both chains and local establishments, to get meals to hospitals in Wuhan, China, according to an article in the South China Morning Post.
The Alibaba-owned service has gathered major QSRs like McDonald’s and Burger King along with local Wuhan restaurants to supply food delivery orders to staff at more than 10 hospitals in the city. The Post reported that an Ele.me rider “safely delivered the first order to a frontline medical staff on Sunday.” Meal delivery to doctors and nurses on the frontlines has continued since.
Previously, Ele.me had suspended meal delivery services to hospitals in order to prevent the spread of the deadly epidemic. But businesses around China, many of them tech companies, are now upping funds and resources to help medical staff fighting the virus, and the various initiatives have become something of a team effort in getting aid to workers on the frontlines in Wuhan.
At last check, more than 7,711 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and 170 people have died. The World Health Organization is meeting today to decide whether coronavirus should be declared an international public health emergency.
Which brings us back to food and food tech. A number of companies stepping up to help are focused on getting food to both workers and those quarantined. Besides Ele.me, Meituan, another food delivery service, has set up a 200 million yuan fund to aid staff and is also providing free takeaway meals every day for hospital staff in Wuhan. Travel service Fliggy, which has been refunding flights, has pledged to supply medical staff in Wuhan with access to things like fresh produce from convenience stores, according to the South China Morning Post article. And as my college Chris Albrecht wrote yesterday, a hotel in Hangzhou, China has dispatched robots to bring meals to quarantined guests.
As Chris notes, the initiative at the Hangzhou hotel highlights “how robots can be used in situations that are hazardous to humans and help save lives (everyone needs to eat).” The same can be said of food delivery, which happens to be one of those sectors of food tech that’s really easy to hate on. It’s ethically questionable in some cases. It may not be sustainable or profitable. Delivery fees suck.
But food delivery, with its streamlined model and technical logistics, is also an easier, arguably safer way to get a daily necessity — a hot meal — to people fighting a deadly crisis. In providing meal services to workers in Wuhan, companies like Ele.me are hopefully sending a signal to restaurants and food delivery companies around the world to step up and do likewise, whether it’s in the event of this virus spreading or at some future point, in the face of a different crisis.