China's Didi launches delivery service after coronavirus hammers ride-hailing demand

FILE PHOTO: Staff members install plastic shield inside a vehicle at a service centre of car-hailing service Didi Chuxing, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Didi Chuxing said on Monday it had launched delivery services in 21 Chinese cities, a move it hopes will provide its drivers with more income after the coronavirus epidemic battered ride-hailing demand.

Customers reluctant to shop outside for themselves will be able to order groceries and coffee via the Didi phone app. The driver will then buy the items and deliver them.

The fast-spreading coronavirus and strict containment measures imposed by the government have disrupted businesses and brought most social activity to a standstill.

"All sectors of society are gradually resuming work and production but the impact of the epidemic has not yet been completely eliminated. The service will help residents and provide Didi drivers with an opportunity to earn income," the company, which is backed by SoftBank 9984.T, said in a statement.

China has, however, a plethora of companies which offer food and delivery services including Meituan Dianping 3690.HK as well as, owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd BABA.N.

Cities where the service has been launched include Shanghai, the eastern city of Hangzhou and the western city of Chengdu. Didi will consider expanding the service to more cities if demand warrants and is also planning to launch a speedy courier service where customers can have items delivered, a Didi representative told Reuters.

Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Edwina Gibbs