Of thousands of executives, teachers and students blocked outside of the country: the closure of quasi-total of the China that foreigners cause of epidemic disrupts the functioning of businesses and international schools.
China, where the novel coronavirus has made its appearance in the end of 2019, rose up in the beginning of February when the United States closed their doors to travellers from this country.
But at the end of march, saying fear of a return of the pandemic via imported cases, Beijing was closing in turn its borders to foreign travellers, including expatriates duly holders of a residence permit.
Yet, many of them had left the country in the midst of a crisis of epidemic. Since then, hundreds of companies must cope without some of their key officials and thousands of families are separated.
The closing of the borders “took me by surprise,” says Jessie Lim, in a carafe since January in Singapore.
The turnover of his agency, events company of Chengdu (south-west) is dropped to… zero in the first quarter, at the height of the crisis. But now, as the economy recovers, Ms. Lim is unable to enjoy it, because you can meet clients.
The end of the contract?
Beijing has negotiated with some countries — Germany, South Korea, Singapore — the return procedures for managers whose presence is deemed “essential” to their business. But the mechanism is complicated and requires a letter of invitation from local authorities as well as multiple testing of the Covid-19. In case of doubt, the placing in quarantine on arrival in China is inevitable.
Some contractors are reduced to having to sell their case: it is the case of the owners of a middle eastern restaurant in Beijing, forced to stay in Israel.
Not less than 90% of the hundreds of companies surveyed by the american Chamber of commerce in China reported disturbances caused by the restrictions on movement.
Because in addition to the suspension of the visas, Beijing has reduced the routes of air travel to the bare minimum: a single flight by company, by country, and by week.
For St. John Moore, president of the british Chamber of commerce in China, these restrictions compromise the country’s position in the asian economy.
“A growing number of british firms have made China their regional headquarters, where their officers can radiate throughout the continent. In the current context, it is no longer possible,” he noted.
His colleague from the Chamber of commerce of the EU, Jörg Wuttke, is alarmed to see these restrictions occur in a period of full recruitment.
“It may become very complicated because a lot of families are separated. A lot of people will probably interrupt their contract of expatriate to return home”, he predicts.
“How can we make China an attractive destination if there are no aircraft, if the quarantine conditions are painful and it is difficult to get a visa?”, asks Mr. Wuttke.
What about tuition fees?
The international schools also have to count with a high proportion of teachers stuck abroad… which makes it difficult in turn the life of the business.
“If China is not a place where the expatriate family with children can work, it will attract less people willing to commit to long term,” warns St. John Moore.
Some parents are clamoring already for the refund of tuition fees paid for their children, then it is not excluded that the block boundaries may extend beyond the next school year.
“The crisis has come just at the time when one had to pay the second quarter,” says Karim Vincent Berrada, a parent of a student at the French Lycée in Beijing.
The closure of borders could threaten the financial stability of the international schools, which have invested heavily in recent years to attract clients abroad, but also that of Chinese high net worth individuals.
China now has more than 70 international schools, ten times more than in 2012. They have generated a turnover of € 800 million for the current school year, according to the firm ISC Research.