Businesses Brace for Coronavirus Shock

Jay Yim, Jan. 28, 2020, 10:16 a.m.

Korean businesses are bracing for the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, making plans to evacuate expats based in China and canceling business trips there. The travel industry here is being hit particularly hard, with trips to and from China canceled every minute.

A staffer at Hana Tour, Korea's largest travel agency, said Monday, "Around 20 percent of reservations to China during January and February have been canceled." Rival Mode Tour is giving full refunds on all travel bookings to China except Hainan and Hong Kong until the end of this month.

South Chungcheong Province on Monday abruptly canceled a group visit of 3,000 Chinese tourists.

With several Chinese cities in lockdown, hotels and retailers here are bracing themselves for massive lost business. Lotte Hotel in Jamsil, Seoul alone has had cancellations from around 50 Chinese guests and has set up thermal cameras to detect guests who have a fever.

Korean businesses with offices in China have gone into emergency mode. SK Global Chemical, which has an ethylene manufacturing plant in Wuhan, evacuated 10 of its staff there and temporarily halted business trips to the region.

SK also distributed masks and hand sanitizers to the 3,000 Chinese workers at the plant and shut down its cafeteria, while ordering staff not to hold meetings or other gatherings for the time being.

POSCO, which runs an automobile steel plant in Wuhan, said it is shutting down the factory until Feb. 2. It will decide whether to evacuate four of its Korean staff there depending on what measures the government here takes.

Businesses are also asking staff to refrain from traveling to other parts of the world. Hyundai, whose affiliate Kia operates a car plant in China's Jiangsu Province, has told staff there to stay indoors and told all workers to refrain from overseas travel and maintain emergency contact with global offices to check up on their health.

LG also told all workers not to travel to China. "Many business trips to Beijing and Shanghai were planned, but we ordered staff in those regions to return to Seoul as soon as possible to prevent the spread of the virus," a company spokesman said.

LG Display, which was set to launch an OLED manufacturing plant in Guangzhou, is banning staff from traveling there unless absolutely necessary, while those returning from the region must be checked for fever and other symptoms.

Korean Air and Asiana Airlines made all of their flight crew wear masks starting last weekend. They had earlier been told not to wear masks for fear of stoking the panic.

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