Wuhan virus: Firms in China extend holidays, ask staff to work from home as virus spreads

A woman wearing a face mask rides a scooter along a street in Wuhan, on Jan 26, 2020.
A woman wearing a face mask rides a scooter along a street in Wuhan, on Jan 26, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – Chinese corporate giants including Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings said they have asked staff to work from home for one week after an extended Chinese New Year break ends, seeking to limit the spread of a new flu-like virus.

The government has lengthened the week-long Chinese New Year holiday by three days to Feb 2 in a bid to contain the virus which has killed at least 81 people.

The total number of confirmed cases on Monday (Jan 27) jumped about 30 per cent to more than 2,700.

But many big businesses are going one step further, telling employees to work from home until Friday (Jan 31) and not return to their offices until next Monday (Feb 10).

Alibaba said the measure applied across all its divisions, including to workers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau as well as in mainland China. It employs more than 100,000 people worldwide, most of whom are in China.

The Shanghai government also imposed a similar measure, announcing that all companies in the city would not be allowed to start work before Feb 9, as did the nearby city of Suzhou, home to a big industrial park for pharmaceutical firms and tech companies.

The decision by the Shanghai government will affect companies such as Tesla, General Motors and Volkswagen which either own factories or operate them in the city through ventures with local partners.

Tiktok owner Bytedance was among the most stringent, requiring employees who travelled during the holidays to quarantine themselves and work from home for 14 days. 

Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the epicentre of the outbreak, is already in virtual lockdown and severe limits on movement are in place in several other Chinese cities.

E-commerce firm Pinduoduo, UBS Group AG and property developer Country Garden have also advised employees returning from Wuhan or Hubei province to quarantine themselves at home.

Haidilao International Holding, operator of a popular hotpot restaurant chain, said it was shutting its stores across China from last Sunday until Friday – one of the biggest temporary closures by a nationwide chain to date.

Other brands such as Starbucks Corp and fast-food giant McDonald’s have also closed shops in Hubei province. 

In Hong Kong, the stock exchange said it was cancelling a ceremony for tomorrow, the first trading day of the Chinese New Year. The decision comes after Hong Kong banned residents of Hubei from entering the territory from Monday.

As companies brace for the virus to hit business, China’s financial regulators said they were encouraging banks to lower lending rates for sectors heavily affected by the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Chinese-ruled gambling hub of Macau said it would bar anyone who has been in Hubei province within 14 days of their arrival from entering the city’s casinos.

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