The Impact of Coronavirus: Outlook and Travel Advice

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The impact of the coronavirus on business travel

Updated on Thursday 30th January, 2020

A summary of the impact of coronavirus

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), also referred to as Wuhan coronavirus, is a positive sense, single-stranded RNA virus which is contracted via human-to-human or human-to-animal contact. It is part of a wider family of viruses which includes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which generate symptoms ranging from a common cold to pneumonia. Most sufferers exhibit some form of respiratory problem including wheezing, coughing, and general difficulty breathing, whilst also suffering from a fever and increased body temperature. More severe reactions to the viral infection can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and acute respiratory syndrome, which are often fatal.

The current outbreak, which began in mid-December, is the first time that this strain of coronavirus has been recorded in humans and subsequently no specific treatment for the condition is currently available. The novel Coronavirus genome has been sequenced by researchers in China and the US, which has revealed that the strain is at least 70 percent similar in genome sequence to the SARS virus which caused 774 deaths across 37 different countries between November 2002 and July 2003. However, it has also been confirmed by the WHO that nCoV is able to spread between human vectors during the incubation period; before the host exhibits any symptoms, making it more difficult to monitor and control than other previous high-profile coronavirus outbreaks. At this juncture, there are more than 7,783 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in total, of which around 170 have resulted in death.

The statistics

  • 7,783 confirmed cases
  • 7,678 cases in mainland China
  • 105 cases outside of mainland China (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan
  • Around 170 deaths have been linked with coronavirus
  • 58.9% of all confirmed global cases and 95.2% of global deaths are in Hubei province 
  • 24 general hospitals in Wuhan will be transformed into specialist treatment centers
  • Bed capacity in Wuhan is predicted to increase from 4,000 to 10,000 by the end of the month
  • A petition including 500,000 signatures for a ban on Chinese nationals travelling to South Korea is being considered

What’s the situation in Wuhan?

Around 59% of all confirmed global cases and 95% of global deaths have taken place in the Hubei province. According to unconfirmed reports, the city is experiencing significant supply shortages and long wait times in hospitals, and medical personnel are reported to have been infected while tending to existing patients. In response, China’s central military command has ordered People’s Liberation Army medical personnel based in the city to help civilian doctors and nurses to increase capacity. The Wuhan Municipal Government (WMG) has also begun the construction of two temporary medical facilities to address infrastructural shortages and the first new hospital is set to be opened on 3 February. These facilities will be assisted through the transformation of 24 general hospitals into specialist treatment centres for the virus, which is predicted to increase the bed capacity of hospitals in Wuhan from 4,000 to 10,000 by the end of the month.

The WMG has introduced a number of new advisories and restrictions, including the mandatory use of face masks in all public places within Wuhan, such as hotels, restaurants, parks, cafes, and shopping malls. All urban transport networks and commercial flights have also been suspended, with no indication that authorities will lift restrictions in the short-term. Authorities have shut down some highways exiting Wuhan whilst private vehicles are being banned from downtown districts of the city to reduce population mobility from Sunday, 26 January. However, exceptions have been made for authorised vehicles carrying supplies according to local reports.

What’s the impact on Greater China?

Authorities across China, including Beijing, have indefinitely cancelled Lunar New Year celebrations, including Spring Festival Blockbuster Film screenings, in addition to temple fairs. The Forbidden City has been indefinitely closed from 25 January onwards, reportedly to limit the potential spread of the virus. The Central People’s Government has also declared that Thursday 30 January, and Friday 31 January will be designated as national holidays in an extension of the CNY break period. It is likely that this has been enacted to cut down on domestic travel and prevent citizens from gathering in workplaces in a further attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus.

On 26 January, the government also announced a ban on the trade of wildlife in markets, supermarkets and restaurants. An official statement has recommended that all places that breed exotic livestock should be isolated and that transportation of stock should also be prohibited after health authorities traced the initial outbreak of nCoV to a seafood market in Wuhan.

National transportation has been heavily impacted by the outbreak and many rail, plane and bus services have been indefinitely suspended. All foreign trips by Chinese holiday tour groups were also cancelled with immediate effect on 27 January. The following cities have been subject to ‘lockdown’ procedures (population estimates are also provided):

  • Beijing – Event cancellation and buses in and out of city suspended – 21,542,000

  • Chongqing Municipality – Buses between provinces suspended – 30,480,000

  • Chibi – Transport suspended – 478,410

  • Dangyang – Transport suspended – 468,293

  • Daye – Transport suspended – 1,014,000

  • Enshi City – Transport suspended and public venues closed – 749,574

  • Ezhou – Transport partially suspended – 1,048,668

  • Foshan – Authorities in Foshan city said all interprovincial roads into the city would be closed – 7,197,000

  • Guangzhou – Suspension of some inter-city rail services – 14,904,400
  • Hong Kong – Events Cancelled – 7,470,903

  • Huanggang – Transport suspended – 6,162,069

  • Huangshi – Transport suspended – 2,429,318

  • Jiangzhou – Transport suspended – 384,905

  • Jingmen – Transport suspended – 3,023,000

  • Qianjiang – Transport suspended – 998,525

  • Shanghai – Inter-provincial bus services suspended – 24,237,800

  • Shenyang – Restrictions on traffic entering and leaving the city. Reduced rail services – 8,294,171
  • Suizhou – Transport suspended. Businesses ordered to close until 9 February – 2,220,000

  • Tianjin – Inter-provincial bus service suspended – 11,558,015

  • Tangshan – Public transport suspended – 7,577,289

  • Wuhan – Transport suspended and public venues closed – 11,081,000

  • Xi’an – Inter-city buses suspended – 12,000,600

  • Xianning – Transport suspended – 2,462,583

  • Xiantao – Transport suspended – 1,175,085

  • Yangxin County – Transport suspended – 3,779,200 (Binzhou)

  • Yichang – Transport suspended – 4,059,686

  • Zhijiang – Transport suspended and public venues closed – 495,995

  • Zhongshan – Authorities ordered all visitors from Hubei to remain in isolation at their hotels for the next 13 days – 3,142,000

According to updates by the US consular service, grocery stores across mainland China are for the most part well-stocked. In some cities there are shortages of certain fruits, vegetables and meats, however this is a common feature during the period of Chinese New Year (CNY). Many restaurants, bars and public venues have been ordered to close in Beijing, despite original plans to remain open over the CNY period and capitalise on domestic tourism. Most schools and universities have also delayed reopening until at least 17 February 2020, under the direction of local administrations.

Reports from those in cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have suggested that routine body temperature checks are becoming more common upon entry to restaurants, shopping centres, workplaces, bus terminals and subway stations. Whilst some testing is mandated by city/provincial authorities, much of it outside of Hubei province is imposed by business owners and is thus venue specific. The Beijing city government and many other provincial/autonomous authorities have issued additional advice asking citizens to self-quarantine at home before returning to work after the Chinese New Year period. The official recommend term is 14 days for those returning from Wuhan, and 3 days for those travelling from anywhere else.

Hospitals outside of Wuhan are generally orderly and, in many cases, have set up triage centres for suspected novel coronavirus patients. Some have also established out-clinics to quarantine patients off-site in public buildings and tents. According to the US Mission to China, reports from Shanghai, Shenyang, Chengdu and Guangzhou have revealed that most hospitals are still receiving patients for non-coronavirus related injuries and illnesses, although waiting times may be longer than usual.

The Coronavirus impact on business travel

Coronavirus spreads form Wuhan to Shanghai. A mother with her child crossing the road wearing surgical masks, Shutterstock

What’s the international impact of coronavirus?

At least 64 confirmed cases of nCoV have been reported in nations other than the People’s Republic of China (including its Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau). So far, none of these infections have resulted in death, although many patients are currently receiving intensive care. Most nations with direct connections to mainland China have introduced travel restrictions and screening measures at border crossings and airports in an attempt to prevent the international spread of the virus. Those suspected of being infected may be required to have an off-site medical examination. Travellers have also been required to complete health questionnaires as part of check-in and entry procedures.

The impacted countries are as follows: Algeria, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Hong Kong (China SAR), India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Macao (China SAR), Madagascar, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan (Province of China), Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Mauritius and North Korea. Some reports suggest that all inbound travel to North Korea is suspended.

The risk of the nCoV outbreak resulting in a global pandemic is currently considered to be relatively low, and the WHO has concluded that the situation is not determined to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). However, this designation is subject to periodic review and is set to be revisited on 1 February 2020.

The United Kingdom

On 28 January, Public Health England confirmed that 73 tests for the virus have been carried out in the UK, and that all 73 patients were confirmed negative. Advanced screening procedures have been introduced for international arrivals from China at airports including Edinburgh (EDI) and London Heathrow (LHR). The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have also begun evacuation procedures for consular staff and British nationals in Wuhan.

The United States

Five cases of nCoV have been confirmed by the US CDC in the following locations: Maricopa county, Arizona; Los Angeles county, California; Orange county, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Seattle, Washington state. Five international airports (Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles LAX, New York JFK and San Francisco) have been designated as enhanced screening points for travellers arriving from central China. The State Department’s Advisory for Wuhan is a Level 4 Do Not Travel and the CDC Alert is now a Level 3 for the rest of the country.

Australia

Twelve people in the Australian states of NSW and Queensland have tested negative for nCoV. On 25 January there were three confirmed cases in Sydney and one in Melbourne. The Health Ministry has introduced advanced screening at international airports and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is considering possible plans to evacuate Australian nationals from Hubei province. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have advised travellers to ‘reconsider travel’ to mainland China.

Malaysia

Malaysia’s Health Ministry announced that there were 4 confirmed cases of nCoV and a further eight quarantined on 25 January. Three cases are relatives of a 66-year-old man who recently returned from Wuhan. Advanced screening has been introduced at international airports.

Thailand

Following the confirmation of an eighth case of nCoV within the country, the government of Thailand convened an emergency meeting on 26 January between the Transport and Tourism Ministries amid public anger over perceived inaction. Advanced screening has since been introduced at international airports. All but one of the eight cases confirmed in Thailand originated from Wuhan. Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn has warned that the shutdown of Chinese cities and the ban on all outbound tour groups by the Chinese government could cost Thailand around 50 billion baht in lost tourism revenue.

Republic of China (Taiwan)

The Taiwanese government has introduced entry restrictions for travellers entering from China. Applications for visas from China are currently suspended in most circumstances with travellers originating from Hubei province being denied entry until further notice. Exceptions are in place for business travellers and spouses of Taiwanese citizens, however individuals subject to exceptions will have to agree to have their health monitored for 14 days after entry and will be required to remain confined at home for that period. The Foreign Ministry has also advised citizens to avoid all but essential travel to anywhere in mainland China.

India

Passengers on flights from China have been subject to screening and health questionnaires. Individuals crossing the Indo-Nepal border have also undergone intensive screening after one confirmed case of coronavirus was reported in Nepal. The Union Health Ministry has also made arrangements for screening along the Nepal-Uttarakhand border. The central government has announced the imposition of a mandatory 14-day quarantine on individuals who have been evacuated from Hubei province with the assistance of the nation’s embassy in Beijing.

France

Advanced screening has been introduced at international airports, and the Foreign Ministry has announced plans to evacuate French citizens from Wuhan by air, after which travellers will be held in quarantine for 14 days.

Japan

Advanced screening has been introduced at all airport with flight from mainland China, and the government has announced plans to evacuate its citizens from Hubei province. The Japanese health minister, Katsunobu Kato, has announced that a Japanese tour bus driver is suspected to have contracted novel coronavirus without visiting China. The individual, who is from Naga prefecture, is currently being tested. If confirmed, this will be the first recorded case of human-human transmission in Japan.

Qatar

Qatar’s Health Ministry has announced that all travellers arriving from China are to be screened for the nCoV upon at the Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha.

Samoa

On 26 January, Samoan authorities issued travel restrictions requiring medical clearance at least three days prior to travel for individuals arriving from specific countries, including Australia.

Mongolia

All border crossings have been closed to vehicles and pedestrian traffic coming from China, and many public gatherings have been cancelled.

South Korea

The South Korean government has raised its infectious disease alert to “orange”, the third-highest tier in its four-tier readiness system, in light of growing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. Quarantine inspections are set to be increased nationwide. A public petition in South Korea calling for a ban on Chinese nationals travelling to the country has received over 500,000 signatures on 28 January and the proposal has been submitted to the President for consideration.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

The DPRK has indefinitely suspended all tourism and entry into the country. Health authorities have also imposed a one-month quarantine on all visitors to the country from China, and the restriction is expected to be primarily applied to diplomats and NGO staff. Those travelling by plane will be held at Pyongsong’s Jangsusan hotel (30 km north of Pyongyang) and those arriving by train will be held at the Amrokgang Hotel in Sinuiju.

Germany

The German government has advised against all but essential travel to Hubei province. The country became the first in Europe to report human-human transmission of the virus when a man who tested positive for novel coronavirus on 27 January was found to have been infected by a work colleague who had visited Wuhan.

Hong Kong SAR

On 28 January, the Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, announced that her Legislative Council plans to suspend all overland transport links between the territory and mainland China. All high-speed trains and ferry service that provide cross-border access will be cancelled indefinitely from 30 January. Airlines will also be forced to suspend half of all flights to the mainland, whilst personal travel permits for non-official visits to mainland Chinese cities will also be nullified.

The Russian Federation

Three Oblasts (the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Khabarovsk and Amur) in Russia’s far east have announced the full closure of their borders with China to prevent the potential spread of coronavirus into the Russian Federation. The crossings are provisionally scheduled to reopen on 7 February, pending further review.

The state of air travel to China

According to media sources, a number of major airlines suspended flights on routes to China from Tuesday 28 January as fear continues over the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

On Wednesday 29 January, British Airways (BA) has stated that it has suspended all direct flights to and from China due to concerns regarding the spread of a novel strain of coronavirus which broke out in Wuhan. At present, the airline’s website is showing no direct flights to the country for January and February. This development comes after the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to mainland China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Finnair announced that it was suspending its routes to mainland China, including its thrice weekly flights between Helsinki and Beijing and twice weekly route to Nanjing in Jiangsu province.

The low-cost Indonesian airline Lion Air announced on Tuesday that it will suspend flights on the Manado-China route from February and that in the last few days of January flights would only operate to take people back to their destinations. Several other flights to Chinese cities will also be suspended or cancelled, according to Lion Air.

Two Chinese airlines (China Eastern Airlines and 9 Air) and the Cambodian airline JC suspended their flights between Yangon and China until the end of February.

Korean airlines Air Seoul, Jeju Air and Eastar Jet have also said this week they will suspend all flights to China. Air Macau announced it has cancelled over 100 flights scheduled until 1 February over fears of the spread of the virus.

Many other airlines have or are expected to make similar arrangements and some are offering travellers the chance to cancel or amend flights to or from China at little or no cost.

What is Novel Coronavirus?

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), also referred to as Wuhan coronavirus, is a positive sense, single-stranded RNA virus which is contracted via human-to-human or human-to-animal contact. It is part of a wider family of viruses which includes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which generate symptoms ranging from a common cold to pneumonia. Most sufferers exhibit some form of respiratory problem including wheezing, coughing, and general difficulty breathing, whilst also suffering from a fever and increased body temperature. More severe reactions to the viral infection can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and acute respiratory syndrome, which are often fatal.

The current outbreak, which began in mid-December, is the first time that this strain of coronavirus has been recorded in humans and subsequently no specific treatment for the condition is currently available. The novel Coronavirus genome has been sequenced by researchers in China and the US, which has revealed that the strain is at least 70 percent similar in genome sequence to the SARS virus which caused 774 deaths across 37 different countries between November 2002 and July 2003. However, it has also been confirmed by the WHO that nCoV is able to spread between human vectors during the incubation period; before the host exhibits any symptoms, making it more difficult to monitor and control than other previous high-profile coronavirus outbreaks. At this juncture, there are more than 7,783 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in total, of which around 170 have resulted in death.

The virus’s origins in a food market in Wuhan has led to the conclusion that it is likely to have been contracted through the illegal sale and consumption of bushmeat, particularly bats. Evidence seems to suggest that nCoV has since adapted to enable human-to-human transmission through physical contact with infected respiratory droplets which are usually expelled through coughing. This has allowed the virus to subsequently spread from patients to family members and healthcare workers. The Chinese authorities have also recently warned that nCoV is adapting to enable faster transmission, although there has been some debate over what is meant by this. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that a wider outbreak is possible and the body is currently debating whether to classify the situation as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ under International Health Regulations, which would put it on par with previous major outbreaks of swine flu, Zika virus and Ebola.

World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance

The Emergency Meeting convened by the WHO on 22-23 January concluded that the situation was not determined to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The committee is set to re-examine the situation on 1 February or earlier if global transmission rates escalate significantly in the interim.

The WHO assessment of the risk of this was last updated on 27 January and designated as very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level. Considering the information currently available about the novel coronavirus, the WHO advises that measures to limit the risk of exportation or importation of the disease should be implemented, without unnecessary restrictions of international traffic.

Read their full guidance here.

Personal risk mitigation and travel advice

  • Travellers should reconsider all travel to Wuhan city and wider Hubei Province due to the prevalence of nCoV amongst the local population.

  • They should adhere to all official instructions and restrictions issued by local authorities and the government of the People’s Republic of China.

  • When travelling to and from China anticipate additional delays at airports and border crossings due to increased screening procedures prior to arrival and departure.

  • Individuals travelling between China and the following countries are required to complete a health questionnaire during check-in and entry procedures: Algeria, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Hong Kong (China SAR), India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Macao (China SAR), Madagascar, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan (Province of China), Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Mauritius.

  • If travelling in central and eastern China, personnel should observe the following personal hygiene measures: frequently wash hands, wear a face mask in public, avoid all close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms, ensure meat and dairy products are thoroughly cooked, and avoid unprotected contact with live wild or farm animals.

  • Individuals who develop symptoms such as difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing, should seek immediate medical attention (via telephone in the first instance), inform their employer (where relevant), and avoid contact with other people.

  • If these symptoms emerge after travel, travellers should also seek immediate medical attention and inform healthcare providers of their past travel history.