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People may start opting out of the sharing economy as coronavirus fear grows

Two weeks ago, a London resident took an Uber to a hospital and was later confirmed to have the coronavirus. In response, the ridesharing app temporarily suspended the driver — something it has done to hundreds of other drivers across the globe for fear the virus would continue to spread. 

Don’t expect to book a place to stay in Beijing using Airbnb, either. The home-sharing platform, where users can pay to stay on someone else’s couch, is halting all bookings in Beijing because of the coronavirus, and advising hosts and users alike to “take necessary precautions to protect yourself when traveling.” Refunds will be given to all those who booked homes in Beijing for stays between February 7 and April 30. 

The coronavirus, which has infected nearly 83,000 people across 47 countries, has stoked fear throughout the tech industry. Conferences like Facebook’s F8 and Mobile World Congress have been canceled and revenue predictions for companies like Apple and Microsoft are expected to take a nosedive due to the widespread impact the virus has had on the supply chain. Stocks have been hit hard of late, some manufacturing plants in Asia have ceased production, and Silicon Valley executives are avoiding handshakes

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The idea of a sharing economy during a time where the world is help captive by a growing, infectious disease isn’t exactly a turn-on for consumers or investors. Stocks for Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and Grubhub continue to fall as health officials warn of a possible pandemic. 

Consumers second-guess sharing

Currently, the sharing economy is a multimillion dollar industry, and one most Americans depend on every day — whether to get to work on time, get a lunchtime salad, or book a spot to crash in a new city. So, as fears escalate over the coronavirus, experts expect consumers to second-guess their normal habits — like hailing an Uber. 

“Any service that involves public interaction is going to be affected,” said Michael Soloman, professor of marketing at St. Joseph’s University and a consumer behavior expert. “People won’t be traveling as much and will be reluctant to use the services themselves.” 

The sharing economy is no friend to #coronavirus – Lyft, Uber, and Grubhub all getting hit this week. What is in? Hunkering down. Peloton and Zoom stocks both up this week.

— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) February 27, 2020

Uber did not respond to request for comment made by Digital Trends on whether or not it will continue suspending accounts associated with the coronavirus. In a report by Business Insider, Uber drivers said they have yet to receive official information about the coronavirus from the company, so some individual drivers are avoiding airport pickups entirely

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) did not respond to requests for comment on whether it plans to include guidelines for those involved in the sharing economy.

Solano County, CA (not far from SF) is the first known instance of human to human spread of corona virus.

Y'all out here worried about airplanes but what about sharing economy, Lyfts, Ubers, Scoots, clothes, etc.

— Lauren M Carter (@lmcarter621) February 27, 2020

Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney told CNBC on Wednesday that the company is still carrying out business as usual — until something happens, then we “will be all over it.” It’s a reactionary move tech companies are sure to follow. 

Postmates, the on-demand courier service, told Digital Trends it plans to abide by guidelines provided by the CDC.

“Community health and safety is paramount at Postmates … we will continue to encourage employees, merchants, consumers, and everyone to follow preventative measures such as washing hands and staying in if you are sick. While we are operating with business as usual, we will continue to information share as CDC guidance evolves,” the company said in a statement.

In a statement to Digital Trends, an Airbnb spokesperson said: “The coronavirus outbreak is causing travel restrictions and other disruptions that have a direct impact on the travel and tourism sector and beyond. Although nobody can know the extent of the impact that the coronavirus outbreak may have, we believe that history shows that when global disruptions happen, the travel industry has bounced back in the long run.”

In response to the coronavirus, Airbnb is allowing guests and hosts to cancel eligible reservations with no penalties under its extenuating circumstances policy for those traveling within, to, or from mainland China. 

Soloman predicts consumers will exercise increased caution in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, and that extends to the platforms they interact with. 

“Right now, there’s an accelerating hysteria,” he said. “The more people start to fear something, the more they act on that. People will be hunkering down until it gets controlled.”

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Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
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