HEFEI, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Facing the difficulty of buying masks in pharmacies, Zhang Ping, 65, successfully snapped up a bag of masks online for her grandson through WeChat.
"I didn't know the smartphone could be so useful. For me, it was just a tool for contacting people before the (novel coronavirus) outbreak," said the elder in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province.
Mobile applications have been playing a more salient role in Chinese people's lives recently as the outbreak forced many to stay at home, and an increasing number of elders are among the newest users who are making full use of online services.
As of June last year, the number of Chinese internet users reached 854 million. Those aged 50 and above accounted for just 13.6 percent, data from the China Internet Network Information Center showed.
According to a recent report by AliResearch, Alibaba's research arm, the novel coronavirus outbreak has driven an "explosive growth" of internet users in China, especially among those born between 1950 and 1959, who are seeing "significantly higher" acceptance of online services.
The report, conducted on the stay-at-home economy in China, is based on data gathered from over nine apps of the Internet giant's business portfolio from Feb. 10 to Feb. 23.
The outbreak allowed many young urban workers, who are more familiar with digital life, to work at home, thus giving them to spend more time with elderly family members.
With the help of her children, Zhang downloaded apps in various categories, including news, videos, and cooking apps.
"The Internet has opened a new world for me," she said.
By the end of 2018, there were 249 million people aged 60 and above in China, accounting for 17.9 percent of the total population.
Like their urban peers, many elderly residents in rural areas also find online services handy during this special period.
Gao Jiyou, a 75-year-old farmer in Nanmu Village in Anhui Province, uses his newly purchased cellphone to keep himself updated with the latest news about the outbreak through news apps every day.
During his stay at home, he also chats on video calls with his son and other relatives in the cities, looks up farming tips, like how to keep his chickens healthy, and watches funny videos on video apps simply to kill time.
Compared with young people, it took Gao more time and energy to explore the Internet, but he was willing to consult his son and kept learning.
Hu Bin, deputy director of the Institute of Finance and Banking, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said with the rising number of elders and farmers started using the internet amid the outbreak, China's internet penetration rate, which stood at 61.2 percent as of June last year, may be further improved.
"Information on the Internet is very comprehensive," said Gao. "I have been staying indoors for a long time, and the Internet allows me to know what's going on outside."