Plastic shields protect China’s ride-hailing drivers against virus

BEIJING (AFP) – At a Beijing “disinfection station”, a driver for a ride-hailing company is installing a plastic shield between the front and rear seats of his car to reassure passengers during the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Zhao Haijun, a Didi Chuxing driver, said the shield helps isolate him from passengers, and prevents the virus being spread through droplets in the air.

“Now, I don’t chat with the passengers,” said Zhao. “In an extraordinary period, it’s better to be careful.”

The car-hailing giant has nine disinfection stations in the capital, each of which can sterilise around 400 vehicles a day.

In addition, there are also 46 plastic shield installation points around the city handling up to 100 cars each per day.

A worker wears protective clothing as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus as he disinfects a car at a disinfection station for Chinese ride hailing company Didi, in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

China has implemented unprecedented measures to try and contain the spread of the virus – which has killed more than 2,600 people in the mainland – including locking down tens of millions of people in the city’s epicentre, Hubei province.There have also been tight restrictions on transport.

Across the country, residential buildings, offices and shopping centres are regularly spraying disinfectant, and checking the temperature of visitors. In Beijing, all taxi drivers have to wear face masks, must direct customers to sit in the rear, and disinfect their cars twice a day.

But Didi – which said it has 30 million drivers and more than 550 million users across its various services – is hoping to reassure its customers with extra measures.

Driver Service Manager at Didi Beijing Wang Weijia told AFP that given the current mood even a sneeze “could cause tension between the driver and the passenger”.

Staff in protective suits spray medical disinfectant work inside and outside, while handles, pedals and steering wheels are doused in cleaning fluid.

After attaching the dividing shield, Didi staff also post a health reminder with a cartoon of a car with a large red heart next to it.

“Safety means protection, and love can cross the plastic cover,” the notice reads.

As well as visiting the disinfection stations, Zhao said he also takes his own measures.