Facebook, others restrict business travel to China as warnings grow

SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) and other global companies including LG Electronics Inc (066570.KS) and Standard Chartered Plc (STAN.L) are restricting travel to China, as the death toll from a flu-like virus rose above 100 on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook branding is seen in a workspace at the company’s offices in London, Britain, January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Airlines are also cancelling flights and adjusting schedules as a growing number of countries raise travel warnings to not just Hubei province where the new coronavirus broke out, but also to the rest of mainland China.

The United States warned on Monday that Americans should “reconsider” visiting all of China, while South Korea elevated its travel warning on Tuesday, advising its citizens to refrain from visiting China.

Facebook became the first major U.S. company to announce a travel suspension after the U.S. government’s warning.

The U.S. social media company asked employees to halt non-essential travel to mainland China and told employees who had traveled there to work from home, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have taken steps to protect the health and safety of our employees,” the spokesman told Reuters.

South Korean home appliances maker LG has put a complete ban on travel to China and has advised employees on business trips in the country to return home as quickly as possible, a company spokeswoman said.

South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix Inc (000660.KS) said it was urging employees to avoid all non-essential travel to China, while banking group Standard Chartered restricted travel to both mainland China and Hong Kong.

In Germany, auto supplier Webasto, which has 11 sites in China, including in Wuhan, has halted all corporate travel to and from China following the virus and the infection of an employee.

Japan’s Honda Motor Co Ltd (7267.T) said it recommended employees avoid travel to China, while Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) said it plans to evacuate its Japanese staff and their families in Wuhan via a government-chartered flight.

As companies reassessed the risk of travel to China, some airlines said demand for flights was falling and they were adjusting schedules.

South Korean budget carrier Air Seoul said it will halt all flights to China, while Taiwan’s China Airlines (2610.TW) announced a further rescheduling of its flights to China from Friday to Feb. 10, cancelling five flights and rearranging the schedules of others.

Taiwan’s Eva Airways (2618.TW) also said some flights to China may be canceled.

Germany’s Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) said on Monday bookings for its flights to and from China were slightly subdued due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (0293.HK) said it was reducing overnight layovers for crew at all points in mainland China as much as possible, resulting in some changes to its flight schedule.

International SOS, a medical and travel security services firm that advises companies on travel, said its guidance for now was that business travel to China outside Hubei province could continue.

But this could be updated if there were major flight cancellations throughout China and more disruptions to ground transport, including rail, International SOS Regional Security Director James Robertson said.

“Many of our clients have chosen to defer or cancel upcoming travel based on their own individual assessments,” Robertson said. “If people do choose to travel they need flexible itineraries accounting for extra time for temperature and health screenings.”

Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Heekyong Yang in Seoul; additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney, Naomi Tatjitsu in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong and Joyce Lee in Seoul; writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Richard Pullin


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