Firms in China extend holidays as virus spreads and deaths mount


Large businesses across China are temporarily shutting stores or advising staff to work from home, to guard against the spread of a flu-like virus as the tally of deaths rose to at least 81, with more than 2,700 people infected.

Companies are also offering longer holidays, cancelling events and imposing quarantine as they brace for longer-term damage following China’s decision to extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days, to February 2, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak and the capital of the central province of Hubei, is already under virtual lockdown, with severe curbs on movement in place in several other cities.

Hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding said it would shut stores across China from Sunday to Friday, while gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd and social media firm ByteDance told staff to work from home.

Many companies, including e-commerce firm Pinduoduo, Swiss bank UBS Group AG and property developer Country Garden also advised employees returning from Wuhan or Hubei province to stay in quarantine at home.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd – the company that operates the city’s stock exchange – cancelled a Wednesday ceremony for the first trading day of the Lunar New Year, it said on Monday, due to the increasing risk of coronavirus infection.

The decision comes after Hong Kong banned residents of Hubei from entering the territory from Monday.

Businesses in China’s eastern manufacturing hub of Suzhou, home to a big industrial park for pharmaceutical firms and tech companies, will stay shut until at least February 8 to guard against any spread, the city government said in a statement on Sunday.

E-commerce firm Alibaba halted sales of overpriced face masks in its online Taobao marketplace as prices surged.

More than 56 million people in almost 20 cities, including Wuhan where the virus originated, have been affected by travel restrictions introduced amid fears the transmission rate will balloon as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during the Lunar New Year celebrations.

Health authorities around the world are taking action to prevent a pandemic as more countries report cases. Confirmed cases have so far been announced in several Asian countries, Europe and North America.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged the respiratory illness is an emergency in China but the organisation said on Thursday it was too early to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

China’s stock markets were closed for the Lunar New Year, but shares in Japan fell 2 percent, its biggest one-day fall in five months.

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