Coronavirus: China's stranded citizens offered medical advice via free service from Alibaba founder Jack Ma

Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group arrives at the "Tech for Good" Summit in Paris, France May 15, 2019.
PHOTO: Reuters

Chinese citizens stranded overseas by flight cancellations and lockdowns caused by the coronavirus outbreak will have access to advice from medical professionals at hospitals in China under a free consulting service launched by Alibaba Jack Ma.

Ma's service will be provided to Chinese citizens overseas via Alipay, a payment application owned by Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post.

The service has been launched as China has come under a growing pressure from imported cases of coronavirus having seemingly bought the domestic outbreak under control.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Chinese citizens working or studying abroad are trying to return home, creating a headache for the Chinese government.

"Mothers are deeply worried when their sons are thousands of miles away," Ma wrote on Chinese social media channel Weibo on Monday "It's now difficult for those who are overseas to return to China, and there are growing risks of infection during their journey - airports, airplanes and buses… nothing is safe!"

China's National Health Commission reported 74 imported infections on Tuesday - the highest on record - bringing the total number of imported cases in China to 427.

Chinese philanthropists like Ma, who retired from his corporate role last year, are attempting to leverage China's success in bringing the domestic outbreak under control to boost their influence outside China.

Technology firms such as Tencent and Baidu are already providing similar services connecting members of the public with coronavirus experts in China.

On Sunday, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, wrote on Twitter that the "global aid platforms" provided by China's technology firms "can not only help our Chinese nationals, but all people suffering from Covid-19".

The consulting service is Ma's latest effort to combat the virus having already donated masks and test kits to other countries, while also providing a website designed to share China's technical experiences in combating the outbreak.

The Global MediXchange for Combating Covid-19 (GMCC) website started as a handbook based on the prevention and treatment experiences from a hospital in Hangzhou, Ma's hometown and where Alibaba is headquartered.

The First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine treated 104 confirmed coronavirus patients over a 50-day period without a member of the medical staff becoming infected, a missed diagnosis or a patient death.

Ma said he was deeply impressed by the hospital's performance and decided to share their experiences with the rest of the world, with a hard copy of the book set to be published later this month.

All the contents, in both Chinese and English, will also be available for free on the website.

"We hope that, with this handbook, doctors and nurses in other affected areas can learn from experience as they face this battle, without having to start from scratch," Ma wrote.

So far, only five Chinese hospitals, including four based in Hangzhou and one in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the outbreak in China, have signed up to share their experiences via the international medical expert communication section, which offers translation in 11 languages as well as free video teleconference and broadcast services.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.