What businesses and travellers need to know about the new coronavirus

27 January 2020

A new virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan is so far responsible for at least 80 deaths. 76 of those occurred in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located. Chinese authorities say that 2,700 people have been infected by the virus, which was first reported to the World Health Organization less than a month ago.

Businesses are especially concerned about travel to and from China as a result of the outbreak. This post provides business travellers and their employers with information about the virus so they can make sound travel-related decisions during this emerging crisis.

Some background on the coronavirus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that the Wuhan virus is a novel coronavirus named 2019-cCoV. It may have first infected people at a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan.

Global health officials now have access to the full genome of the new coronavirus, which appears to have emerged from bat coronaviruses and the SARS coronavirus. Unfortunately, the CDC reports, “the available sequence information does not provide any information about severity of associated illness or transmissibility of the virus.” Furthermore, at this point it is “unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people.”

The CDC stresses that they, the World Health Organization and other health authorities around the world are conducting ongoing investigations to learn more about the new coronavirus.

The state of the outbreak now in China

The situation in China is evolving and volatile. The Wall Street Journal reports that Chinese health officials have warned that the virus is “fast-spreading” and “growing more contagious.” Chinese authorities are scrambling to control the outbreak, imposing unprecedented travel restrictions, extending the Lunar New Year holiday, and taking other steps.

Hubei Province is a critical industrial centre in China, and the entire nation is already feeling the economic effects of the outbreak. Many large multinational businesses — including PepsiCo, Siemens and Renault — have significant activities in Hubei, and some are suspending operations and/or evacuating workers. Bloomberg speculates that Chinese consumption could be hit hard by virus-related travel restrictions and decreased discretionary spending, which may result in a 1.2 percent drop in GDP growth.

The global effects of the outbreak so far

The public health and economic effects of the Wuhan virus have not been limited to China. Reuters reports that cases of the virus have been confirmed in 10 countries, including the U.S., France and Japan. The article notes that investors are particularly “worried about the impact on travel, tourism and broader economic activity.” The Nikkei Asian Review reports that global stock markets opened weaker today due to worries over the worldwide effects of the outbreak.

Travel advisories

The CDC’s Traveler’s Health China page contains regularly-updated information about travel to China. At the moment, the CDC has posted a Level 3 Warning on the page, recommending that travellers avoid all nonessential travel to Hubei (including Wuhan) due to the new coronavirus. The CDC says that Chinese authorities have closed all transport in and out of the province, including train stations and the international airport.

For travel to other parts of China, the CDC currently recommends that travellers practice enhanced precautions. In other words, the CDC does not currently recommend avoiding nonessential travel to China, provided travel is outside Hubei Province. The New York Times says that even in these situations, however, travellers to China should expect longer wait times, since authorities may conduct fever and health screenings at airports, train stations and other transportation hubs.

Taking precautions while travelling and what to do if you get sick

While global health experts are still learning about the new coronavirus, they do know that it’s in the family of viruses that causes the common cold and that these viruses typically cause respiratory illness. The WHO has developed advice for the public to reduce exposure to and transmission of these kinds of illnesses.

The U.S. Department of State has also issued a China Travel Advisory related to the coronavirus. The following passage from that advisory is useful and short enough to reprint here in full (the language below is taken verbatim from the site):

If you must travel to China, you should:

  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Discuss travel to China with your healthcare provider. Older adults and travellers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease.
  • Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

If you travelled to China in the last 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should:

  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Not travel while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
Resources for travellers and businesses that send workers to and from China

The following websites have authoritative information on the new coronavirus. Individuals who travel to and from China — and businesses looking to protect their employees who travel to and from China — should check these sources regularly for the most current information.