Millions of Chinese Working from Home to Avoid Coronavirus Crash Business Networks

A person works at a computer during the 10th International Cybersecurity Forum in Lille on January 23, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Philippe Huguen (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP via Getty Images)
PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP via Getty Images

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that numerous popular business applications crashed in China on Monday due to the enormous surge in demand from employees who decided to work from home after the Lunar New Year holiday ended, rather than return to their offices and risk infection by the Wuhan coronavirus.

The holiday normally would have ended on January 30, but Beijing ordered it to be extended a few extra days to keep people at home while the virus outbreak was brought under control. Very few people in China believe the virus is under control, so on Monday “tens of millions of users overwhelmed the servers of DingTalk and WeChat Work, two of China’s most widely used workplace apps by Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent respectively.”

According to the SCMP, network capacity was hastily upgraded to handle the increased demand for those two popular apps, but numerous others are struggling to keep up with the unprecedented demand, including WeLink by Huawei and Lark by ByteDance.

Alibaba estimated at least 200 million people were using its services to work from home on Monday, taking advantage of special offers to use DingTalk features for free during the coronavirus crisis.

DingTalk thoughtfully added a new “beauty filter” feature for video conferencing to “save users the trouble of putting on makeup to look good while working from home,” while Tencent’s WeChat Work made changes that allow up to 300 people to participate in a video conference.

Another SCMP piece on Tuesday wondered if all of this teleconferencing would be enough to prevent the virus from spreading again as people resume their daily lives after the extended Lunar New Year break. 

An anonymous public health expert in Beijing told the paper there is a high danger of the epidemic expanding as people return to work. Although some Chinese medical officials predict the virus outbreak will peak within two weeks and begin declining, this anonymous expert worried the virus could surge again once travel and commerce across China begins returning to normal.

Most of China’s provincial governments have asked businesses to remain closed for at least another week, with even major manufacturing hubs shutting down. Chinese citizens voiced concerns about using mass transportation while the epidemic continues, and many forms of air and ground transportation have been suspended anyway. The lockdown area around Wuhan now includes 16 cities and over 50 million people.

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