Coronavirus Triggers Damage Control from Governments, Companies

Government officials and corporate executives around the world are scrambling to limit the damage from the fast-spreading coronavirus as Russia tightened its border with China and the U.S. announced plans for a second evacuation of the Chinese city at the center of the epidemic.

Source: WSJ | Published on January 30, 2020

teenagers student wearing mouth mask against smog in city

In response to the virus, companies including Tesla Inc. and IKEA were forced to temporarily halt operations in China.

The moves came as two more countries—India and the Philippines—confirmed their first infections, bringing the total number of affected countries to nearly 20, as the total number of confirmed cases approached 8,000.
India said a student from Wuhan University tested positive for the virus while visiting the southern state of Kerala and was in isolation at a local hospital. The Philippines said Thursday it recorded its first confirmed coronavirus case, a 38-year-old Chinese woman who arrived in the country on Jan. 21 from Wuhan.

Moscow, meanwhile, said that it will temporarily restrict passage through 16 road, rail and river checkpoints along its 2,670-mile-long border with China, starting Friday. Though Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot hasn’t stopped flying to China, smaller Russian airlines have canceled flights into China from the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok.

A number of countries pushed ahead with efforts to extract their citizens from central China.

The State Department on Thursday said it is planning a second evacuation flight from Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the newly identified coronavirus first emerged last month, offering hope for the hundreds of American citizens still believed to be in the city.

The Indian government is seeking permission from Chinese authorities to operate two flights to repatriate citizens from Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, and will quarantine them for 14 days.

In Japan, controversy erupted Wednesday after two people on a government-chartered evacuation flight from Wuhan to Tokyo refused to be tested for the new coronavirus. Some on social media wondered why the Japanese government didn’t quarantine evacuated citizens the way other countries had.

“This is unforgivable,” wrote one Twitter user. “No more charter flights!”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Parliament Thursday that while the government had pushed for all 206 passengers on the Wednesday flight to be tested, it had no legal power to compel them. Three people on the flight tested positive for the virus, including two without symptoms, according to the health ministry. The two who refused testing didn’t show any symptoms and health-ministry staff drove them home in a regular car, health ministry official Takuma Kato said.

A second charter flight to evacuate Japanese citizens from Wuhan arrived in Tokyo on Thursday, and Mr. Kato said all 210 people who returned on that flight had agreed to be screened.

Meanwhile, immigration officials in Hong Kong scoured the city for visitors from Hubei, finding 15 on Wednesday night during searches of 110 hotels, according to Lam Shuk-yee, deputy secretary for security of the Chinese territory on Thursday.

Ms. Lam said 1,600 people from the province had been turned away at the Hong Kong border since the ban.

On the corporate front, big multinational companies moved to temporarily shut down their China operations as workers remained largely in place, with the Lunar New Year holiday extended through the end of the week and transportation links largely curtailed.

Tesla Chief Financial Officer Zach Kirkhorn said Wednesday that the company was halting production at its new Shanghai Gigafactory to comply with a local-government order to extend China’s Lunar New Year holiday, which Mr. Kirkhorn said could affect the company’s first-quarter performance.

All 30 IKEA outlets in mainland China were closed until further notice, the Swedish furniture giant said Thursday.

Air France —part of Air France-KLM—joined the list of airlines cutting service to China. The French carrier said it will suspend all scheduled flights to and from the mainland until Feb. 9 and would operate special flights starting Friday to and from Shanghai and Beijing using volunteer crew members to enable customers a

Italian authorities were holding 6,000 passengers and crew aboard a cruise ship docked at the port of Civitavecchia near Rome after a 54-year-old Chinese woman showed flu-like symptoms, according to a spokesperson for Costa Crociere, the company operating the ship Costa Smeralda.

The woman and her male traveling companion, who showed no symptoms, were isolated in the ship’s hospital, the company said, while Italy’s health ministry said it was waiting for the results of tests for coronavirus.

China’s national women’s soccer team is being held in quarantine in a hotel in the Australian city of Brisbane until Feb. 5, health authorities for the northwestern state of Queensland said Thursday. The 32-member team had traveled to Australia to compete in a qualifying tournament for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

The tournament was originally scheduled to be held in Wuhan but was moved to Sydney after the outbreak. The team had departed Wuhan Jan. 22, before the city was locked down, said the Chinese Football Association, which said it also planned to suspend soccer competitions nationwide starting Thursday.

Closer to the outbreak’s center, the education department of Wuhan’s home province of Hubei encouraged middle and primary schools to move classes online to ensure students keep up with their studies even with the Lunar New Year holidays extended indefinitely.

“The semester is delayed, but study shouldn’t be,” read a slogan included with the recommendation by the department, which separately encouraged local universities to move academic activities online.

The province also opened a new helpline on Thursday for people struggling with the psychological toll of the outbreak, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday, citing local officials.

In Chongqing, a southwestern megacity that borders Hubei, pharmacies are now required to report the names of people who buy medication for symptoms like fever and cough, part of an effort to track people who might have coronavirus symptoms, state broadcaster China Central Television reported Thursday. The city of more than 30 million people had 165 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of midnight Wednesday and is closely connected to Wuhan by road and rail.

In a sign of mounting pressures on medical staff in affected cities, the head of the infectious diseases division at Shanghai’s Huashan Hospital declared that all the doctors who had been treating coronavirus patients would be allowed to rest and would be replaced by doctors who were Chinese Communist Party members.

“We can’t bully those who are more obedient,” Zhang Wenhong said, describing the early responders as heroic. “So I’ve decided to change the shift. It will all be Party members from now on.”

In words tinged with exhaustion and frustration, Mr. Zhang, who is also the senior party leader of his division, said Communist Party members needed to live up to their vows to serve the people. “I don’t care whether or not you’re willing, you’re all going to step up,” he said.