In China's locked-down coronavirus city, grocery delivery is a lifeline

Reluctant to go outside for fear of catching the new coronavirus sweeping the Chinese city of Wuhan, Edward Wang found a lifeline: grocery delivery services provided by local retailers.

But with hundreds of thousands of other people in Wuhan also stuck inside their homes doing the same thing, and retailers struggling to get hold of their staff, the service became overloaded.

So for Wang, now in Canada after flying out of Wuhan on an evacuation flight, a daily ritual developed during his days on virtual lockdown in the city.

At the turn of midnight, grocery stores would open up their order book for the day’s deliveries, and he would pounce to place his order before all the delivery slots were taken by other customers.

“You have to be very quick,” he told Reuters by phone.

“Usually, if they release their inventory at midnight, the day before, you basically have to finish by 12:02 or 12:03, so within 2 or 3 minutes, otherwise, all the delivery schedules are booked up.”

“There are basically no delivery people working right now. Basically for those stores, it is just the store manager driving their own private car around the neighborhood trying to deliver groceries.”

Wang grew up in Canada, and has family in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. He was in Wuhan when the coronavirus outbreak hit.

Eventually, he left Wuhan on board a U.S.-chartered evacuation flight, and then, with other evacuees, he transferred to another plane that landed on Friday at a Canadian military base in Trenton, Ontario.

He recorded video footage on the plane after it landed, showing a Canadian immigration official, dressed in a face mask and goggles, addressing passengers.

The official said that on disembarking, they would go through a sanitary footbath, and would have to hand over their used face masks and be given fresh ones.

“Welcome home,” he said to the passengers.

The evacuees will now stay in quarantine in the Trenton military base for 14 days.

Wang said once he had been cleared as free of the virus by Canadian medical authorities, he planned to head to Vancouver, where his family has a home.

“I have not been in this kind of situation before, where I had to be evacuated from somewhere. You imagine things like this happening in war zones,” he said.

He said he had weighed his options before deciding to fly to Canada. In Wuhan, he could limit the chance of infection by avoiding contact with other people. By boarding a plane, he would potentially put himself in contact with people who were infected.

On balance, though, he decided to leave because he believed China’s healthcare services were struggling to cope.

“On the off chance that we do get sick, I’d rather get sick in Canada,” he said.