Major cities across China are preparing for the return of millions of workers after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, but as the coronavirus outbreak continues to rage, opinions are mixed on the safest approach.
Wang Bin, a deputy director general at the Ministry of Commerce, said in Beijing on Sunday that companies were “encouraged to resume business on the basis of sound preparation against the pandemic”.
Central and local governments are trying to balance the need to control the outbreak, boost supplies for frontline medics and minimise the impact on thee economy.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, has ordered local governments, departments and companies to make plans to solve all difficulties to resume normal production “as soon as possible” while also ensuring epidemic controls.
The decision was “to provide enough material supply to fight the disease and to strongly support and stabilise the overall economy and society”, a State Council notice said.
In Beijing, mayor Chen Jining on Friday night visited several companies at Zhongguancun, a technology hub in the city’s Haidian district, to check on their preparations.
Every effort should be made to ensure businesses return “to stable work as soon as possible”, he said.
Some key industries in the capital resumed operations on Monday, after the municipal government said it was necessary to ensure it achieved its economic growth target goal of 6 per cent for the year.
Schools and universities, however, would remain closed until further notice, it said.
In Shanghai, the authorities are taking a flexible approach to the resumption of commercial activities.
“Companies can require their employees from the worst affected areas to postpone their return and arrange for others to take their place according to their business situation,” a government spokesman said on Sunday.
It was also reasonable for companies to adopt flexible working hours for their employees and, if possible, allow them to work from home.
Companies that did reopen their doors must ensure their workplaces were properly ventilated and avoid using centralised air conditioning systems because they could help spread the coronavirus, the government said.
To help with the massive influx of people back into the city, 16 checkpoints have been set up at the Hongqiao transport hub in central Shanghai, which links the airport to the intercity high-speed rail network and local subway network.
On workdays, between 1.2 million and 1.5 million pass through the hub. Authorities in the city said they were alarmed that more than 100 people passing through the Hongqiao hub in the last few days had had a fever.
In Shenzhen, a hi-tech manufacturing hub in southern China, where more than 65 per cent of the population – about 8.2 million people – are migrant workers, the government said companies should also adopt a flexible approach.
Any time that is lost to the virus outbreak could be made up later in the year when there are other holidays, it said.
On Saturday, the city’s authorities published an app that companies were asked to use to report their plans for resuming production, and to access relevant advice and support.
Several major employers in Shenzhen have already announced they will not be restarting production on Monday.
Foxconn, a contract manufacturer that produces iPhones for Apple, told its employees not to return, and has even refitted some of its production lines to make face masks for its workers.
“The operation schedules for our facilities in China follow the recommendations of the local governments, and we have not received any requests from our customers on the need to resume production earlier,” it said in a statement.
The Shenzhen government earlier announced a package of measures to support local businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak, including tax cuts and subsidised loans, It said also it would make up to 20 million yuan (US$2.85 million) available for producing emergency medical supplies needed by those fighting the contagion.
In nearby Guangzhou, the capital of south China’s Guangdong province, authorities are trying to manage the needs of companies to resume operations while also catering to the concerns of local people who fear the returning migrant workers will bring the coronavirus back with them.
The city’s Communist Party chief, Zhang Shuofu, said on Saturday that companies could resume operations gradually, but any that did so must take all necessary precautions to prevent becoming clusters of infection.
Fearful of the risk of fuelling the coronavirus outbreak, the State Council, China’s cabinet, last month announced a three-day extension to the Lunar New Year holiday until February 3. However, authorities in more than 20 provinces delayed the restart by a further week until Monday. In Hubei – the epicentre of the outbreak – people have been told not to return to work until Friday.