Here is our latest update on the effects of the Covid-19 flu outbreak on our operations and service delivery in mainland China and Hong Kong for the week of March 2, 2020.
For continued updates on how COVID-19 is affecting our markets around the world, please visit our News Hub.
We continue to gather our information from various government websites, news articles, and our partners across China to establish our guidelines for the delivery of our services.
Our offices in Shanghai and Beijing are fully operational, and we have implemented a rotational schedule to allow our colleagues to either work from home or at the office. Three members of our team are still stuck in their hometowns, but the remainder of the team is now back in Shanghai or Beijing and will over the weekend have finished the mandatory home-stay quarantine. 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 normally as well, with only a few colleagues choosing to work remotely.
All non-assignee facing services are currently conducted as per usual and are 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:
- All international and local schools in China remain closed for the time being. No official announcements have been made by the educational bureau on the reopening date, but the general expectation is for this to last for at least another two or three weeks. The education bureau in Hong Kong has already extended the closure until April 20.
- Several of the schools have been debating alternatives and amendments to their education programs, e.g., shortening the Easter break, extending the summer term, prolonging lessons, but none of these plans have been made official and will, in any case, be subject to bureau approval.
- 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 are still not being conducted, but admissions offices are generally working and are in contact with assignees on applications that have already been submitted.
- Property viewings are still restricted as most compounds continue with the resident-only policy. We have, however, seen some loosening of these regulations and more general activity on the compounds themselves. We have also heard encouraging updates from many of our real estate partners across China, who are now back to operational business (although they are also still struggling with the restricted access to the compounds). Services in Wuhan obviously remain heavily impaired. While property visits continue to be difficult to conduct anywhere, we have been working with assignees to provide photos and videos of the properties to continue their searches.
- From the medical perspective, expat-focused doctors and hospitals remain open but are implementing a visit-by-appointment-only policy. Most dental clinics offer emergency and urgent care access but are also closed for general appointments.
- Social Activities: Most social expat and sports activities and clubs remain closed. Public gatherings such as dining with large groups are discouraged. Most gyms remain closed, as do many playgrounds, some malls, and cinemas. The extent of these closures differs from location to location.
- Supermarkets and grocery stores are open. We are not receiving any news or reports on food or supply shortages, except for hygiene masks and any kind of sterilizing sprays and handwash. Food and grocery deliveries are active, and we have also witnessed more restaurants reopening and returning to business as normal, at least in Shanghai and Beijing.
- Daily life: Social activities at many of the popular expatriate compounds are increasing with more families having returned to Shanghai and Beijing. The usage of hygiene masks is still the social norm and mandatory on all public transport. Much of the transport system is regulated with temperature checks but is otherwise operating as per usual.
- Families returning from abroad have been requested to undergo a 14-day home-stay or compound quarantine. While this is not an official, national regulation anymore, each compound management or neighborhood community bureau is entitled to draw up its own regulation on this topic.
Impact on Corporate Housing Services:
- Serviced apartments and hotels have established additional and individual safety measures and are requesting for travel itineraries from guests during check-in, as well as quarantine release documents and health certificates if guests have traveled from key epidemic areas.
- In some cases, guests are required to provide a location tracking search on their mobile phone to document where they have been for the last 14 days.
- Residences of Hubei province and those with Hubei ID cards are generally only permitted to stay in government-approved hotels.
- Our corporate housing services otherwise continue to be operational as normal.
Impact on V&I Services
- New work permit applications can still be submitted through the standard online application process, and original, face to face document verification for most applications 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 document copies submitted online are correct and authentic.
- For new residence permit applications, physical presence at the local bureaus is still required.
- The medical center conducting the mandatory medical check-in Shanghai has advised that foreigners can only conduct their check-up after 14 days of having arrived in the city. Similar to check-ins at hotels and serviced apartments, this is regulated through a location track search on the mobile phone.
- Several medical centers remain closed, including Suzhou, Wuxi, and Changzhou. The exit-entry bureau has confirmed that delays in permit application due to the closure of medical centers shall not trigger any punitive action.
- 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 Secretary for Education announced that schools would not resume in Hong Kong until April 20. When schools do reopen, they will do so in phases. The full details of how this will be implemented are yet to be disclosed; however, the government has confirmed it is unlikely that summer holidays will be shortened since schools have been holding online classes.
- The Education Bureau announced 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 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 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 at least March 1, (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 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.