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Sharing economy is hit by virus

Hopping on a much used scooter is no longer so appealing
Jan 31,2020
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Samsung BioLogics Executive Vice President John Rim chats during a conference in San Francisco last month. [KO JUN-TAE]
With a deadly virus on the loose, reasonable people are less inclined to jump on a shared scooter, crash on the couch of a stranger advertising accommodation on a website or utilize kitchens crowded with aspiring chefs.

Sharing just doesn’t have the appeal it did before the outbreak, so naturally, the sharing economy is taking it on the chin.

Lee Na-young, a 24-year-old student, is thinking about canceling her reservation made through Airbnb, the international website for sharing accommodations. She is worried about using a space used recently by someone else.

“I am unsure if the place is properly sanitized since it’s the homeowner who does the cleaning” said Lee.

Lee was not the only one to raise such concerns. In response, Airbnb is preparing a set of safety guidelines for landlords utilizing its service to prevent the virus from spreading.

The worries extend to other businesses offering shared services, in which a space or product is utilized by people who have signed up by app or website.

Kickgoing and Gogo-ssing, two local electric scooter-sharing companies, announced Wednesday measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They will be sending out more employees to regularly sterilize scooter parts that receive the most human contact, like the handlebars and breaks. Scooters will also be collected after service hours so they can be sterilized stem to stern.

Critics say the efforts are not enough to alleviate concerns.

“Even if the scooters are sterilized, I would have to wash my hands after riding the scooter to feel confident,” said Lee, 29, a frequent user of the scooter-renting service.

Shared kitchens such as WeCook are also upping their vigilance against the coronavirus. It is going above and beyond the minimums required by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

Users of WeCook kitchens are now obliged to submit to a temperature check and disinfect their hands before starting and wash their hands regularly while working.

They are only allowed to use the kitchen under the close supervision of WeCook employees, and all shared cutlery and space will be disinfected with alcohol.

“We already have a professional team managing hygiene, but we’ve tightened our rules to a point that may seem excessive to eliminate concerns from our users and the consumers who buy products made in our kitchens,” said Jeong Go-un, a WeCook manager.

The epidemic is a serious issue for the mobility industry as the business by nature entails frequent face-to-face contact.

Car-sharing service SoCar said Wednesday that it will wash and sterilize all of its 12,000 vehicles. Van-hailing service Tada will make it mandatory for drivers to wash their hands and check their temperature throughout the day.

Kakao Mobility, which offers taxi hailing, has advised drivers to wear masks and place hand sanitizers inside the vehicles. The company said it’s considering follow-up measures if necessary.

While some worry the epidemic might jeopardize the sharing economy, others consider it a short-term obstacle that was bound to happen eventually. It is important not to contribute to the crisis to avoid the negative press that would result, they say.

Some sharing companies are also seeing a silver lining.

“Our kitchens are all separated with partitions and individual entrances for each cooking space. We also saw a 20 percent increase in weekly sales this month as customers prefer to order food than dine out,” said a source from Ghost Kitchen, a shared kitchen company.

BY PARK MIN-JE, KIM JUNG MIN [kang.jaeeun@joongang.co.kr]