Coronavirus and Your Mobile Workforce: Latest Updates

Updated February 14, 2020

The latest information on how the coronavirus is impacting corporate relocation and global assignments.

Together with our on the ground partners, we are continuing to monitor the situation and are drawing on multiple government and news sources to keep our clients up to date and informed. In Mainland China, many offices have reopened this week, although companies are encouraging their employees to continue to work remotely from home, as per government recommendation. For the most part, Hong Kong companies have returned to business as usual.

For Mainland China:

Impact on Destination Services:
– Most international schools in China will remain closed until at least 2nd March 2020, with the possibility of this being extended further. Most schools have implemented an online, home-schooling process, which reportedly is causing additional stress for parents during these challenging times. Campus visits during school search program can currently not be conducted. Admissions offices are working for most schools and are in contact with assignees on applications that have already been submitted.

– Property Viewings continue to be severely restricted in most locations as many compounds are still conducting a resident-only policy. Only people currently residing on the premises are allowed to enter most gated compounds and we are therefore restricted in what properties can presently be shown to incoming assignees.

– Expat-focused doctors and hospitals remain open, but are asking patients to only visit by appointment and if absolutely necessary. Patients with fever symptoms are not permitted to enter but are required to go to government-run hospitals instead.

– Service apartments and hotels have established additional safety measures and are requesting for travel itinerary from guests checking in. Residences of Hubei province and those with Hubei ID cards are only permitted to stay in government-approved hotels.

– Social Activities: Most social expat and sports activities and clubs remain closed. Public gatherings such as dining with large groups are discouraged (and in some areas in fact prohibited). Gyms are closed until further notice, as are playgrounds, some malls and cinemas. The extend of these closures differ from location to location.

– Supermarkets and grocery stores remain largely open, although opening hours have been modified. We are not receiving any news or reports on food shortages, except for hygiene masks and any kind of sterilizing sprays and handwash.

– Daily life: Most residential compounds remain generally closed to outside visits. Courier and food delivery etc. must be picked up at one designated entry gate. All comings and goings are monitored with temperature checks. If residents are showing temperature above 37.3 degree, they will need to visit a designated fever clinic and are not permitted entry to the compound. Residents must register with the property management to enter the compound. Most cities are advising travelers to take a 14-day home quarantine if they were travelling outside their home city over Chinese New Year. Local community representatives are regulating and enforcing these home quarantines and measures vary between compounds.

Impact on V&I Services
– The China exit-entry bureaus and local foreign expert bureaus have returned to work since February 10th.

– For new residence permit application, physical presence at the local bureaus is still required.

– In general, the exit-entry bureau encourages companies not to submit visa application for the next two weeks, unless they are deemed urgent.

– Overall delays in the application process are to be expected.

For Hong Kong:

On February 13, the Education Bureau announced all schools should defer class resumption for two more weeks, that is, 16 March. Schools have implemented online classroom support and circulating homework assignments for continuation of learning throughout this period. Additionally, the civil service, which includes Hong Kong Immigration, is expected to continue working from home until February 23 (subject to further confirmation). Immigration has suspended filing of new work visa applications and while visa renewals are being accepted, there is no timeline as to when Immigration will revert on these applications.

Landlords do expect prospective tenants to wear masks to view and some buildings have implemented temperature checks upon entry.

Our partner providers are taking maximum precautions and efforts to make sure that the services which can be delivered will be delivered as safely and efficiently as possible. We are expecting delays for new assignees inbound to China.

Please note all dates and all travel/closure advisories are subject to change. We strongly urge clients to confirm closure dates and travel restrictions with in-country resources in China and via official websites and news sources.

Updated February 9, 2020

The latest information on how the coronavirus is impacting corporate relocation and global assignments.

In collaboration with our destination service providers, we continue to monitor the situation during these challenging times.

Many offices that have been closed are scheduled to reopen on Monday, February 10. However, most companies are enforcing internal precautions and safety measures for their teams. This includes a 14 day work from home incubation period for team members who have been travelling recently, as well as encouraging employees to regularly check their temperature and use masks when appropriate (particularly in public spaces).

The impact on Destination Services for assignees remains high, particularly in mainland China.

Impact on Destination Services:
– Most international schools are closed until at least 17th February 2020, but may remain so for longer. In Hong Kong, schools are already announced to be closed until at least 2nd March. Most schools have implemented an online, home-schooling processes, but campus visits during school search program cannot be conducted currently.

– Property Viewing are severely restricted in most locations as many compounds are still conducting a resident-only policy. Only people currently residing, or have been granted special permission by the occupant, are allowed to enter most gated compounds and we are therefore restricted in what properties can presently be shown to incoming assignees. In Hong Kong, landlords are operating as usual, although some have implemented additional hygiene and cleaning measures. In some isolated instances, some landlords are limiting viewings.

– HHG Shipments: Similar to the above, few compounds are allowing moving trucks or other external delivery trucks onto their premises, and several HHG providers report that deliveries within China cannot be made.

– Social Activities: Most social expat and sports activities and clubs remain closed. Public gatherings are discouraged or prohibited in some locations. Gyms are closed until further notice, as are playgrounds, some malls and cinemas.

– Supermarkets and grocery stores remain largely open, although opening hours have been modified. Initial reports of shortages appear to mainly apply to hygiene masks, sterilizing sprays and handwash. Food and grocery delivery services continue to operate, although goods can only be delivered to the compound gate for pick up.

– Several fast food and coffee chains remain closed, as are large furniture centers, such as Ikea.

– Expat-focused doctors and hospitals remain open, but are asking patients to only visit by appointment and if absolutely necessary.

– Service apartments and hotels have established additional safety measures and are requesting for travel itineraries from guests checking in.

– Most flights to and from China remain cancelled or reduced in frequency.

Impact on V&I Services
– Overall delays in the application process are to be expected. In China, the exit-entry bureaus and local foreign expert bureaus has been partially operational since 3rd Feb 2020 – with restricted conditions. In Hong Kong, the Immigration Department has been working on a skeleton staff.

– In China, new work permit applications can still be submitted online; the original, face to face, documents verification process for new applications, renewals and cancellation is currently not needed. Local host companies are instead asked to provide a commitment letter for each on-going case to ensure that all the application documents copies submitted on-line are correct and authentic. However, for new residence permit application, physical presence at the local bureaus is still required.

– In general, the exit-entry bureau encourages companies not to submit visa application for the next two weeks, unless they are deemed urgent.

Please note all dates and all travel/closure advisories are subject to change. Together with our destination service partners, we urge you to continuously verify the latest, reliable closure dates and travel restrictions with your in-country resources in China and via official websites and news sources.

Updated February 4, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Friday, January 30, 2020, that the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). According to the WHO press conference, China’s response is to be commended and establishing the outbreak as a PHEIC is designed to better coordinate the global response especially within countries that have “weaker health care systems.”

Furthermore, on January 30, 2020, the Department of State issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel Advisory for China and the U.S. and several other countries have established restricted entry for travelers that recently visited China. With the outbreak spreading to 24 countries, concern is growing not just for employees, assignees and other business travelers in Wuhan and throughout China, but employees who could be stationed in developing countries.

To that end, we will reiterate our recommendations:
 If your organization has an Emergency Response plan, activate your plan.
 Collaborate with Corporate Health, Travel and Security resources.
 Assess or inventory your mobile population.
 Contact all employees on assignment and ask your Emergency Assistance Provider to contact them as well. Local laws permitting, ensure you identify anyone with a compromised immune system, chronic illness or underlying medical issues as these individuals may be at a higher risk.
 Re-issue any emergency assistance provisions in your policy for international assignees.
 Provide emergency contact information (especially important for employees in quarantined areas).

Obviously this is a very fluid situation with travel and immigration challenges exacerbated by government closures. Several countries have closed their borders with China, commercial airlines have cancelled flights and some countries have implemented quarantines or are restricting entry for travelers from Wuhan, the Hubei province and/or China.

Most companies are proactively monitoring the situation and communicating with assignees and travelers more frequently.

 Most have halted nonessential travel.
 Employees in the region are encouraged to work from home and take preventative measures to avoid exposure.
 Some companies have offered home trips or transport to lower risk locations (but caution and careful planning is required to minimize service disruption and possible quarantines)
 A smaller number have offered home leaves or repatriation and fewer still are evaluating business trips to other locations in Southeast Asia.

Service Disruptions
Our APAC leadership and local service providers are reporting that the likelihood of service disruptions is significant with so many government agencies in Hong Kong and China closed, the border between mainland China and Hong Kong partially closed, multiple businesses and schools in the region closed and airport screenings increasing. As a result, we are already seeing a “pause” in pending relocation activity into or from high risk locations and assignees wanting to postpone their journeys. This will allow a prudent response and avoid any unintended “precedent setting” reactions.

Additional Updates
We recommend staying abreast of all the latest and are working collaboratively with clients and emergency services to source solutions.

Partners at Fragomen have established a special section on the home page of their public website.

We are also getting routine updates from our Weichert Global Network members in the region and from International SOS and Worldaware.

Updated January 27, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is evolving quickly. As of late Monday, January 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance recommending that non-essential travel to China be avoided. Other countries, including Canada, have recommended avoiding all travel to the province of Hubei, the center of the outbreak, due to the extensive restrictions within the province.

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet designated the outbreak an “emergency”, new cases continue to be identified worldwide, creating heightened concern and anxiety.

Measures to contain the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, have included health screenings at international airports and emergency evacuations of citizens by some governments.

As you might imagine, this situation raises concerns for international assignees and the people who manage them. As mobility professionals, there are several things you should keep in mind:

What should you do?

If your organization has a time-tested Emergency Preparedness plan, review your established protocols.  If you don’t yet have a plan in place, we recommend that you consider the following:

  • Collaborate with Corporate Health, Safety and Travel Security resources
  • Assess or inventory your mobile population
  • Contact all employees on assignment and ask your Emergency Assistance Provider to contact them, as well.
  • Re-issue any emergency assistance provisions in your policy for international assignees.
  • Provide emergency contact information.

According to partners at International SOS the response has been measured so far.

How concerned are you about the outbreak?

What has your organization done to date?

Our APAC leadership and Weichert Global Representatives in the area are monitoring the situation carefully.  They advise that if government offices remain closed and travel restrictions stay in place, service delivery in the region could be adversely impacted. Chinese authorities have extended the national holidays by 2 days already, but there is the possibility that government bureaus and state-owned businesses will not reopen until February 10, 2020.

These extensions will affect all government bureaus, as well as state- and privately-owned businesses. It will also have an impact on visa offices, property management companies and other regional suppliers that provide services in and about assignees’ properties.

Typical emergency evacuation provisions include moving people to a “safe zone,” but in response to this situation that may not be advisable – make sure to confirm with your organization’s approved Health/Welfare resource before taking any action.

As you plan the support you can offer assignees in impacted regions, it’s important to know that most “emergency evacuation” policies cover the following benefits: evacuation and/or travel expenses; excess baggage; temporary living; school/tutoring; and possibly a miscellaneous allowance or cash advance to cover incidentals like medical supplies.  

For more information on how to develop a broader Emergency Preparedness plan, check out our Duty of Care whitepaper. You can also stay updated on the situation through the following resources:

General Overview and Live Updates

South China Morning Post

CNN

WorldAware

World Health Organization

Travel Alerts & Precautions

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

US Department of State

UK Government

Government of Canada

SHRM

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