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Firms in China extend holidays, ask staff to work from home as virus spreads

File photo Passengers arrive at LAX from Shanghai, China

Big businesses across China are temporarily shutting stores or advising staff to work from home, to guard against the spread of a flu-like virus as the tally of deaths rose to 80, with more than 2,700 people infected.

Companies are also offering longer holidays, cancelling events and imposing quarantine, as they brace for longer-term impact following China’s weekend decision to extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Feb. 2, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak and the capital of the central province of Hubei, is already under virtual lockdown, with severe curbs on movement in place in several other cities.

Hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding said it would shut stores across China from Sunday to Friday, while gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd and social media firm ByteDance told staff to work from home.

Many companies, including e-commerce firm Pinduoduo, bank UBS Group AG and property developer Country Garden also advised employees returning from Wuhan or Hubei province to stay in quarantine at home.

The Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEX) cancelled a Wednesday ceremony for the first trading day of the Lunar New Year, it said on Monday, due to the increasing risk of coronavirus infection.

The decision comes after Hong Kong banned residents of Hubei from entering the territory from Monday.

Businesses in China’s eastern manufacturing hub of Suzhou, home to a big industrial park for pharmaceutical firms and tech companies, will stay shut until at least Feb. 8, to guard against any spread, the city government said in a statement on Sunday.

E-commerce firm Alibaba halted sales of overpriced face masks in its online Taobao marketplace as prices surged.

FACTBOX: Latest on the coronavirus spreading in China and beyond

* As of Jan. 27 the death toll in China had risen to 81, with 76 in Hubei province, authorities reported. Another 2,744 people in China had been infected. As of the end of Jan. 26, there were 1,423 confirmed cases in Hubei province.

* Thailand and Hong Kong have each reported eight cases of infection; the United States, Australia, Taiwan and Macau have five each; Japan, Singapore and Malaysia each have reported four; France and South Korea three each; Vietnam two, and one each in Canada and Nepal.

* No fatalities have been reported outside China.

* The previously unknown coronavirus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people.

* The World Health Organisation said that while the outbreak was an emergency for China, it was not yet a global health emergency.

* Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Most of those affected are older people and those with underlying health conditions.

* China says the virus is mutating and can be transmitted through human contact.

* Two scientific analyses of the epidemic say each person infected is passing the disease on to between two and three other people.

* Three research teams have begun work on developing potential vaccines, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations said. Scientists hope to be testing the first possible vaccines in three months’ time.

* China is testing the HIV drug Aluvia as a treatment.

* There are severe travel restrictions in Wuhan, with urban transport shut and outgoing flights suspended.

* Among other measures to contain the virus, China will halt all group tours, affecting tourism both at home and to other countries, from Jan. 27.

* Hong Kong has barred residents of Hubei province from entering the city.

* France, Italy, Japan, Australia and the United States have all said they are working to evacuate citizens from Wuhan.

* Airports around the world have stepped up screening.



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