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People wearing face masks stand near trees decorated with red lanterns ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus: Tech firms heed call as Chinese authorities urge people to stay home, go online for Lunar New Year

  • The Chinese government is encouraging more domestic consumption, while allowing people to maintain a normal life without travelling
  • Online streaming video service providers are expected to increase their offerings of free films and other content to meet demand during the holiday
The Lunar New Year holiday in China ushers in the world’s biggest annual mass migration, as families reunite across the country. The government, however, has tightened travel restrictions this year and encouraged people to stay at home amid a resurgence in Covid-19 infections.

Chinese authorities urged the public to go online to satisfy their needs for entertainment, shopping and festive meals, while calling on tech companies to meet that user demand to help contain the latest coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s important to advocate against unnecessary travel during the Spring Festival holidays and to ensure services for the masses to celebrate the Chinese New Year locally,” said Zhao Chenxin, a spokesman for the National Development and Reform Commission, an agency under the State Council.

Zhao on Wednesday called on online video service providers to increase their offerings of free films and other content, which could make avoiding travel more appealing to their users.

People check their smartphones as they wait for trains in the Beijing West railway station on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
The government has stepped up efforts to convince people, especially migrant workers, to stay put over the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday amid a spike in coronavirus infections. A number of cities have gone into lockdown in an effort to curb the outbreak, while various companies and local governments are offering workers and urban residents financial incentives to stay at home.

As part of this drive, Chinese authorities have ensured that travel tickets can be easily cancelled and that supplies remain stable throughout the holiday season.

The government has also asked public venues and entertainment premises to stay open, including libraries, museums, theatres, parks and sports stadiums. Shops have been urged to open for at least eight hours a day during the Spring Festival.

Various online service providers are expected to benefit from the government’s latest measures, including online education, according to Jessie Qian, partner and head of consumer and retail at business consultancy KPMG China. “People will be spending more time online, but I think this time the spike will not be as high as last year,” she said.


Beijing residents queue for Covid-19 tests as Lunar New Year travel rush begins

Beijing residents queue for Covid-19 tests as Lunar New Year travel rush begins
Short video-sharing platform Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has announced various content for the holiday, including exclusive streaming films. ByteDance-owned Douyin is expected to raise its profile during the Lunar New Year as the exclusive advertising partner of China Central Television for the Spring Festival Gala, the world’s most-watched national TV broadcast.
Netflix-style video service iQiyi, owned by Chinese internet search giant Baidu, has announced the availability of free films and television shows in selected areas as people welcome the Year of the Ox.
Douyin and Tencent Holdings-backed Kuaishou are also expected to give away “lucky money” via virtual red packets, in which instantaneous money transfers can be made via the apps, during the Lunar New Year holiday.
A WeChat Pay user scans a QR code to retrieve a digital red packet on the app. The function was introduced by Tencent Holdings’ WeChat in 2014, allowing users to hide the amount being sent until the virtual red packet is opened by the recipient. Photo: EPA/STR

The biggest festival in the Chinese calendar is also a time for enjoying auspicious dishes, prompting authorities to call on the support of on-demand food delivery platforms.

The government urged online platforms to connect with catering businesses, guarantee delivery services during holidays and encourage food delivery drivers to spend the holidays in the cities where they work, according to Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng.

Meituan, operator of on-demand food delivery app Meituan Waimai, said it has earmarked 500 million yuan (US$77.8 million) for subsidies for delivery drivers who work during the seven-day festival.
The number of searches for New Year’s Eve meals from January 13 on food delivery platform, owned by Alibaba Group Holding, have increased fourfold compared with the same period last year, state media reported. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
Food delivery couriers for Meituan stand with insulated bags on a street in Shanghai. Photo: Bloomberg

The commerce ministry, along with other government departments and agencies, will also promote the 2021 National Online New Year’s Day to encourage more consumers to buy holiday products online, Gao said during a press conference on Thursday. Representatives from various on-demand delivery operators and state-owned service China Post were invited to the conference to ensure their commitment during the holiday.

Taobao Marketplace, part of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has launched a campaign for users to send gifts to friends and relatives during the holiday period. Taobao and Tmall, Alibaba’s business-to-consumer platform, along with smart logistics network operator Cainiao, have earmarked more than 200 million yuan as extra compensation for couriers who remain on duty over the holiday season.

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Unlike last year, when Covid-19 peaked in the first quarter, this year the government has encouraged more domestic consumption, while allowing people to maintain a normal life without travelling, according to KPMG’s Qian. She said last year’s situation was focused on restricted travel and strict social distancing.

The current policy is expected to benefit local services, including grocery stores and restaurants, according to Qian, but will not have any significant effect on travel and hotel bookings.

The Covid-19 pandemic has already proved beneficial for tech businesses as companies launched work-from-home tools and schools switched to online classes. It has sped up changes in fields like medicine, with remote consultations, as well as renewed interest in technologies such as contactless payments and delivery.