Coronavirus: China firms cut staff as Xi vows no large-scale layoffs

A woman walks in the normally bustling Wangfujing shopping street in Beijing, where the coronavirus outbreak has taken a toll on small-to-medium sized businesses, on Feb 10, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - A Chinese media company said it would lay off 500 employees due to the coronavirus outbreak, the latest among a string of firms to do so in the past two weeks as the epidemic takes a toll on small to medium-sized businesses.

Xinchao Media, which places advertisements in lifts, will cut 10 per cent of its workforce to "ensure survival", the company said in a post on its official WeChat account on Monday (Feb 10), which carried the transcript of an internal speech by chief executive Zhang Jixue.

"To overcome the epidemic, you have to step on the brakes, jam the cash flow, reduce costs," Mr Zhang said, as he noted the company's cash reserve of one billion yuan (S$198 million) would likely be enough for only six to seven months in the absence of income.

The job cuts come even as President Xi Jinping said the government would prevent large-scale layoffs caused by the virus outbreak - which has killed more than a 1,000 people in mainland China and infected over 40,000.

The authorities said on Tuesday that they will roll out measures to stabilise jobs.

But many companies are hurting from disruptions felt since late-January after local governments extended Chinese New Year holidays and urged people to stay home.

"It is possible that the coronavirus could result in two to three million lost jobs in the first quarter," said Mr Nie Wen, an analyst from financial firm Hwabao Trust.

While the job losses are likely to be temporary, the authorities need to step up support to small firms, as many of them are highly indebted and have cash-flow issues and "may not make it through", he added.


Chinese restaurant chain Xibei, which has over 360 outlets, has said it is worried about wages for its roughly 20,000 workers, given how the epidemic had impacted its income.

"We need 156 million yuan a month to pay our workers, and if the epidemic continues, and cash flow continues to be inadequate, we will not be able to hold up for much longer," it said on its official Weibo account.

In Beijing, only 11,500 restaurants were operational at the middle of last week, or 13 per cent of the total, the Beijing Municipal Market Supervision Bureau said.

Beijing's "Karaoke King" has said it wants to terminate contracts with all its 200 employees as it shut its outlets due to the outbreak, local media reports said. The karaoke chain did not immediately return calls made by Reuters on Tuesday.

And at least one company has said it would cease operations due to cash-flow issues caused by the coronavirus.

Band of Brothers, a 13-year-old IT education chain, said on Weibo last week that it would stop enrolling students at its Beijing campus and disperse its employees, after the government ordered schools to delay reopenings.

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