Ad agencies with offices in China have extended Lunar New Year holidays and advised their employees against traveling, among other measures, as the country struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak that now numbers more than 20,000 cases worldwide.
“In accordance with the advisory from the government, BBH China extended the Chinese New Year holidays to Feb. 9,” says Asiya Bakht, regional communications director for BBH Asia, noting that the agency will give its employees an additional week off following the state-mandated holiday extension.
In China, this year’s Lunar New Year holidays were originally slated to run from Jan. 24-30.
“After [Feb. 9], we will see how the situation goes and what we will do,” says Anomaly Shanghai CEO Eric Lee, who suggests that his employees could also work from home if the outbreak is not contained soon—which is looking increasingly likely as the amount of recorded cases continues to rise.
More than 25 countries, including the U.S., now have at least one confirmed case of the disease, as Chinese authorities struggle to contain the virus that originated in central China’s now-quarantined Hubei province.
“BBDO China is following prevention measures issued by the Chinese government on a real-time basis and updates employees consistently to ensure the correct action is implemented,” the company, which has offices in three Chinese cities, says in a statement.
Most international agencies that have a presence in China are clustered around the commercial hubs of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou (all of which are at least 400 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in Hubei).
Beyond Wuhan, several major airlines including American, Delta and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific have reduced or canceled service to destinations across mainland China in recent weeks, which makes travel difficult. As such, many agencies are advising their China-based staff members who are currently out of the country to stay put until further notice. In addition, some have placed restrictions on employee travel to and from neighboring Asian countries.
Agency holding companies are also urging caution or travel bans, among them Interpublic Group of Cos., Dentsu, Publicis and Havas. "We’ve decided to impose a company-wide travel restriction to China and Hong Kong due to the coronavirus health situation," according to an IPG statement. "Effective immediately, all non-essential business travel to and from China and Hong Kong will need to be put on hold until the situation improves."
IPG added: "In addition to our travel restriction, employees who traveled to China and have returned home (U.S. and elsewhere) have been urged to stay at home for a 14 day period even if they don’t show signs of illness." The company is urging affected offices to use virtual communication and is requiring special approval for "business-critical travel" to the country.
"All China-based colleagues who were outside of China during the [outbreak] have been temporarily relocated ... to other offices in the region like Singapore and Tokyo," said S4 Capital in a statement. "Our Chinese colleagues who were in their hometowns during the break, have stayed there to work remotely to minimize travel and increase chance of infection."
Citing "the health and safety of our people," Japanese giant Dentsu is urging employees to "avoid non-essential travel to China."
Efforts to contain the virus spreads are impacting more than just flight schedules. This week, citing outbreak-related hygiene concerns, LG Electronics and China-based ZTE both canceled events at the Mobile World Congress, one of the world’s largest wireless tech conferences to be held in Barcelona later this month. That conference draws 100,000 annually, according to its organizer.
Meanwhile, Facebook has launched a campaign to combat misinformation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, with social media breeding everything from outlandish conspiracy theories to the idea that the disease is somehow related to Corona beer.