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4 Feb 2020

China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

China: Amid spread of novel coronavirus, workers struggle to keep Wuhan functioning under limited supply of protective gears

“The workers striving behind the scenes to combat the coronavirus in Wuhan”, 4 February 2020

… Chen had planned to return to her hometown in Shaanxi for the Lunar New Year holiday but, like millions of others, she was trapped when the city was quarantined on 23 January. Initially, Chen did not know what to do but, working with food delivery company Meituan, she soon organised an efficient and hygienic delivery system that was able to provide medical workers with much needed meals.

The efforts of Chen and her colleagues is a testament to the fact that the novel coronavirus outbreak has not just affected the city’s frontline medical staff but has also placed extraordinary demands on Wuhan’s delivery workers, taxi drivers, sanitation and community workers, not to mention the thousands of construction workers contracted to build a new hospital in just a few days. These workers are under additional pressure however because the bulk of resources go to frontline medical staff, leaving support staff largely unprotected.

Wuhan’s sanitation workers are struggling to keep the city’s streets clean with increased workloads and limited supplies… In addition to their usual cleaning services, sanitation workers have to empty mask recycling bins, sterilise their vehicles three times a day and spray disinfectant onto the streets…

Masks, gloves and disinfectant are all in short supply. One group of workers received disinfectant daily and reusable labour gloves from their employer, others were allocated just two masks by their employer…

The transport shutdown has also immeasurably increased the pressure on the city’s already under-resourced community workers… The city’s community workers have been tasked with monitoring the health of local residents and making sure those who cannot leave home have adequate supplies of food, medicine and other necessities…

However, the majority of community workers are ill-equipped to deal with the crisis. They were not given accurate information about the nature of the virus and only had the most basic protective gear…

Taxi driver Yu Huahui told GQ Report that his company only provided drivers with surgical masks and disinfectant… Yu urged his employer to do more to protect drivers and passengers but received no response.

… One food delivery platform in Wuhan allocated a maximum of just five masks per person but required all riders to wear masks during the work and to inform the company if they felt unwell. JD.com on the other hand does provide delivery workers with a new mask every day - sometimes it is a surgical mask, and sometimes a N95 mask. It was quite a high level of protection compared to other delivery platforms, one courier said.

It is clear that private companies, as well as the local government, could and should be doing a lot more to help the workers in Wuhan who are now playing such a vital role in keeping the city functioning. Here, local trade unions can play a greater role as well, putting pressure on employers to properly protect employees.