SHANGHAI/SEOUL/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Facebook Inc and other global companies including LG Electronics Inc and HSBC are restricting travel to China, as the death toll from a flu-like virus rose above 100 on Tuesday.
Airlines are also cancelling flights and adjusting schedules as a growing number of countries raise travel warnings to not just Hubei province where the new coronavirus broke out, but also to the rest of mainland China.
The United States warned on Monday that Americans should “reconsider” visiting all of China, while South Korea elevated its travel warning on Tuesday, advising its citizens to stay away.
Europe’s biggest bank, HSBC, banned all staff travel to Chinese-ruled Hong Kong for two weeks and to mainland China until further notice, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
The British-based lender, which has the largest presence among foreign banks in China, also asked staff who have recently visited the country to undergo a self-imposed quarantine.
“We are asking those who have travelled to mainland China or been in contact with anyone who has travelled to or through Hubei province in the last 14 days to stay home for a period of 14 calendar days,” a spokeswoman for the bank said.
US rival Goldman Sachs imposed similar measures, according to a memo seen by Reuters.
Facebook became the first major US company to announce a travel suspension after the US government’s warning.
The US social media company asked employees to halt non-essential travel to mainland China and told employees who had travelled there to work from home, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have taken steps to protect the health and safety of our employees,” the spokesman told Reuters.
South Korean home appliances maker LG has put a complete ban on travel to China and has advised employees on business trips in the country to return home as quickly as possible, a company spokeswoman said.
South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix Inc said it was urging employees to avoid all non-essential travel to China, while banking group Standard Chartered restricted travel to both mainland China and Hong Kong.
In Germany, auto supplier Webasto, which has 11 sites in China, including in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, has halted all corporate travel to and from China following the virus and the infection of an employee.
Japan’s Honda Motor Co Ltd said it recommended employees avoid travel to China, while Nissan Motor Co said it plans to evacuate its Japanese staff and their families in Wuhan via a government-chartered flight.
As companies reassessed the risk of travel to China, some airlines said demand for flights was falling and they were adjusting schedules.
South Korean budget carrier Air Seoul said it will halt all flights to China, while Taiwan’s China Airlines announced a further rescheduling of its flights to China from Friday to Feb. 10, cancelling five flights and rearranging the schedules of others.
Taiwan’s Eva Airways also said some flights to China may be cancelled.
Germany’s Lufthansa said on Monday bookings for its flights to and from China were slightly subdued due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said it was reducing overnight layovers for crew at all points in mainland China as much as possible, resulting in some changes to its flight schedule.
International SOS, a medical and travel security services firm that advises companies on travel, said its guidance for now was that business travel to China outside Hubei could continue.
But this could be updated if there were major flight cancellations throughout China and more disruptions to ground transport, including rail, International SOS Regional Security Director James Robertson said.
“Many of our clients have chosen to defer or cancel upcoming travel based on their own individual assessments,” Robertson said. “If people do choose to travel they need flexible itineraries accounting for extra time for temperature and health screenings.”
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz and Engen Tham in Shanghai, Heekyong Yang in Seoul and Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong; additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney, Naomi Tatjitsu in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, and Joyce Lee in Seoul; writing by Jamie Freed and Lawrence White; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Richard Pullin and Nick Macfie)