WHEN SARS, a coronavirus, hit China in 2003 citizens hunkered down at home. This proved a blessing for some businesses. Chinese social media took off. So did e-commerce. Richard Liu, who ran a chain of consumer-electronics shops, shut all his brick-and-mortar stores and set up JD.com. The firm is now valued at $64bn.
A novel coronavirus that has brought China to a halt this year is boosting another fledgling industry: telemedicine. As hospitals turn away patients with other ailments and many Chinese are confined to their homes or steer clear of clinics for fear of infection, millions are seeking treatment and advice on the internet. The government is egging them on.
Xin Lijun, boss of JD Health, says that his platform’s monthly consultations have grown tenfold since the outbreak, to 2m. Some 1.6m tuned in to a talk by a top cardiologist that the JD.com subsidiary live-streamed. Without the outbreak, the shift in consumer behaviour would have taken perhaps five years, reckons Mr Xin. Chen Qiaoshan of Analysys, a consultancy in Beijing, thinks that China’s online health-care market may near 200bn yuan ($29bn) this year, up from her pre-outbreak estimate of 158bn yuan.
China’s telemedicine market—including consultations and drug sales—had been predicted to grow vigorously even before...
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