Week starting February 24, 2020
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Here is our latest update on the effects of the Covid-19 flu outbreak on our operations and service delivery of Dwellworks in mainland China and Hong Kong for this week.
We are drawing on a number of government websites and news sources as well as the input of our colleagues across China to develop our guidelines and measures to ensure safe and responsible service delivery during these challenging times. Our offices in Shanghai and Beijing are fully operational, even though the large majority of our team members are still working from home. Some of our colleagues are now in the second week of their mandatory home quarantine, after having returned from their Chinese New Year travels. Others are following government guidelines to minimize office visits as much as possible. A rotational team is in the office to accept courier deliveries and assist with other back-office tasks as needed. Since 2016, our server and file management system in China has been entirely cloud-based, allowing for full and secure access to all information required to continue their work from home. Hong Kong continues to be operating as normally as well, with only a few colleagues deciding to work remotely.
All non-assignee facing services are currently conducted as per usual and are generally not affected by the virus outbreak. Assignee and client-facing services continue to be affected by various government guidelines and regulations.
For Mainland China:
Impact on Destination Services:
- Most international and local schools in China remain closed until at least March 2, 2020, and we are expecting this to be extended until at least March 16th. No further announcements have been made by the schools at this stage. The large majority of international schools have implemented an online, home-schooling process, with some of the schools even offering live online lessons. Campus visits can currently still not be conducted, but admissions offices are generally working and are in contact with assignees on applications that have already been submitted.
- Property viewings are still severely restricted as most compounds continue with the resident-only policies. Even though we have had reports from some compounds becoming less stringent about visitor requirements, we are currently still not able to conduct in-person property visits. We have instead been working with assignees to provide photos and video choices of the properties to continue their searches. We have also seen an increase in requests for serviced apartment bookings and extensions on existing leases while new home searches are on hold.
- From the medical perspective, expat-focused doctors and hospitals remain largely open but are usually implementing a visit-by-appointment-only policy. Patients with fever symptoms are generally not permitted to enter but are required to go to government-run hospitals instead.
- Most social expat and sports activities and clubs remain largely closed. Public gatherings such as dining with large groups are discouraged (and in some areas in fact prohibited). Most gyms remain closed, as are many playgrounds, some malls, and cinemas. The extent of these closures differs from location to location. Not surprisingly, many expatriates are complaining about homestay-fatigue and general boredom. Social media platforms and local expat groups are full of advice and suggestions on fun activities to do from home. Some of our assignees are braving to venture outside and explore the almost empty streets of Shanghai and Beijing (despite general recommendations to stay indoors.) There are also a number of fitness apps that have increased their home workout programs.
- 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. Food and grocery deliveries are very active and are by many considered the unsung heroes of this crisis. While most compounds are still not allowing entry by outside visitors, the delivery to the designated entry gates and checkpoints have become vital for many residents not leaving their compounds.
- Daily life: Usage of hygiene masks is mandatory on all public transport (although this was already well-implemented before the regulation was issued). Much of the transport system is regulated with temperature checks but is otherwise operating as per usual. We have witnessed more traffic and activities on the road compared to last week, which we see as a positive sign.
Impact on Corporate Housing Services:
- Serviced apartments and hotels have established additional and individual safety measures and are requesting travel itineraries from guests during check-in. Residences of Hubei province and those with Hubei ID cards are only permitted to stay in government-approved hotels. Similar to the residential compounds, we have received some reports where serviced apartments and hotels are now no longer asking new arrivals to self-quarantine for the requested two-week period anymore.
- Some serviced apartments are allowing for property and facility viewings, but are requesting details of the visitor’s travel itinerary and temperature checks before entering.
- Our corporate housing services otherwise continue to be operating normally.
Impact on V&I Services
- The China exit-entry bureaus and local foreign expert bureaus have returned to work since February 10.
- New work permit applications can still be submitted through the standard online application process, and original, face to face, documents verification for most applications are currently not needed. Local host companies are instead asked to provide a commitment letter for each on-going case to ensure that all the copies of application documents submitted online are correct and authentic.
- For new residence permit applications, physical presence at the local bureaus is still required.
- The China foreign expert bureaus have currently cancelled the rule that the foreign employees’ work permit renewal applications must be submitted at least 30 days before the expiry date.
- Medical check-up in Shanghai: the medical center’s website has advised that foreigners can only conduct their application medical check after 14 days of having visited any other destination in China.
- In general, the exit-entry bureau encourages companies not to submit visa applications for the next two weeks, unless they are deemed urgent.
For Hong Kong:
- On February 25, the Education Bureau announced that schools will remain closed until after the Easter break and only reopen April 20, 2020, at the earliest for all primary and secondary schools. The Bureau confirmed that they would allow graduating students, sitting imminent international exams, to attend the necessary tutorial sessions, as long as essential preventative measures were in place. Throughout this period, children have been receiving a mixture of live virtual lessons, pre-recorded content, as well as study links, online resources, and “homework,” covering all subject areas, thus ensuring the curriculum is fully supported from Kindergarten through to Senior level. Last week, the government confirmed the provision of subsidies to schools and students to help alleviate expenses incurred during class suspension.
- For relocating executives and their families, while schools remain physically closed, Admissions offices are still operating and accepting new enrollments. Some schools are offering school tours on a one-on-one basis, while others have gone one better on the admissions front and are offering a completely virtual admissions process, from online school tours to applications and assessments.
- Hong Kong Immigration is expected to continue working from home until March 1st (subject to further extension). 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. Immigration is processing HKID cards for first-time registrants in three locations only.
- Our home-finding operation remains status quo. As it has become socially unacceptable to not wear a mask in Hong Kong, and some buildings actually require it, we recommend prospective tenants to wear a mask to view housing, simply to make other people comfortable.
Please note all dates and all travel/closure advisories are subject to change. We strongly urge our partners to have their corporate clients verify the latest, reliable closure dates and travel restrictions with their in-country resources in China and via official websites and news sources.
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