Coronavirus Outbreak Impacting Global Business

Companies are cutting operations and restricting nonessential travel to mainland China as the virus spreads.
Lauren MuskettJanuary 29, 2020

An increasing number of companies are cutting operations and suspending travel to China as the country fights to contain the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Major companies are responding to the outbreak in China by suspending travel and cutting business operations.

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  • Disney closed theme parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
  • McDonald’s began suspending business in five cities in Hubei Province, where the outbreak began.
  • Starbucks closed more than 2,000 stores in mainland China, its largest market outside the United States.
  • Facebook and Goldman Sachs have told employees to suspend nonessential travel to mainland China.
  • Microsoft told employees to defer trips and advised staff in China to work from home.
  • Johnson & Johnson said employees can only travel to China for business-critical reasons and need approval from senior company officials.
  • GM restricted travel to employees with “business-critical needs.”

Staff and customers wear face masks at a McDonald’s in Hong Kong as a preventative measure following a coronavirus outbreak.

The coronavirus has reportedly killed at least 132 people and infected more than 6,150 people since the first patient was identified in Wuhan on December 31.

The coronavirus had already surpassed the number of SARS cases during the 2003 epidemic. SARS cost the global economy an estimated $54 billion, according to the World Bank.

On Tuesday, United Airlines announced it would suspend flights between hub cities in the United States and Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, citing a “significant decline in demand.” British Airways, along with the budget carriers Lion Air and Seoul Air, suspended flights to China on Wednesday.

“We are very concerned that we have seen a lot of cancellations and closure of airports,” said Gloria Guevara, the chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council. “Yes, we are concerned about the spread of the virus and to stop that spread as soon as possible, but panic is spreading faster than the virus.”

Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings released a memo saying the impact on air carriers is expected to be minimal but said that “a prolonged ban on traveling from and to China may have more negative implications” on airlines, depending on the severity and length of the interruptions to international routes.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said it would reconvene an emergency meeting this week to decide whether the virus was a global health emergency.