As Covid-19 spreads across the world, companies are being forced to impose ever-widening restrictions on business travel by staff. Having started with China, the curbs have been extended to cover Southeast Asia, the Far East and Europe. Videoconferencing and working from home are being encouraged.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Nestle, HSBC, Paytm, Franklin Templeton and others have put in place protocols to lessen the chances of employees catching the disease. In countries that have seen a high number of infections, workers have been asked to stay away from office.
“Specifically, in Italy, as a precautionary measure we have implemented work from home and travel restrictions,” a TCS spokesperson said. “This had also been put in place across some countries in Asia Pacific, and is being monitored and modified based on the situation in each location.”
HSBC India said travel advisories have been issued based on the level of infection.
Travel approval has also been made more stringent. “Each geography has to determine whether they will encourage visitors or not,” said Hitendra Dave, head of global banking and markets at HSBC India. “If you are in the thick of the action, then naturally there will be an advisory or a restriction. Any travel that has to be undertaken now requires a higher level of approval… A lot of roadshows are now phone shows.”
Employees are also being screened for recent travel to affected countries. Visitors to the BNP Paribas office in Mumbai are asked whether they have been to China recently. The bank has imposed a global 14-day, self-quarantine on people from high-risk countries during which they work from home. Non-essential travel in the Asia-Pacific has been either postponed or cancelled. Following the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona due to the outbreak, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said it’s lost about Rs 15 lakh in advances that won’t be refunded.
COAI, which represents Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, has also “cancelled a string of upcoming meetings in India of the 3GPP on telecom standards, as many international participants won’t be able to come due to business travel restrictions,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the lobby group.
A Nestle India spokesperson said international travel has been curtailed across all its markets. “As a precaution, we have asked all of our employees worldwide not to travel internationally for business purposes until March 15,” the spokesperson said. “Domestic travel should be replaced by alternative methods of communication where possible. We will review this measure in light of external developments.”
Consumer goods and healthcare company Reckitt Benckiser has also issued advisories to employees that they should undertake work related travel only when absolutely necessary. “We’re asking employees to defer nonessential travel during this time,” an Amazon India spokesperson told ET.
Amazon India employees received an email Monday morning asking them to refrain from traveling overseas, said a person with knowledge of the matter. Flipkart is “continuously monitoring the situation and have advised our employees to minimise non-essential travel”, a spokesperson told ET.
Twitter has informed its employees and notified partners that it is suspending all non-critical business travel and events. “This policy is effective immediately and will continue until the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control deem it appropriate to step back from pandemic precautionary measures or when a vaccine becomes available,” wrote Jennifer Christie, chief HR officer at Twitter, in a blogpost on March 1.
Facebook is not cancelling international travel, but has put temporary restrictions on business travel to Italy and South Korea besides to and from mainland China. “Our priority is the health and safety of our teams. We continue to monitor the situation and update our guidance to employees,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
Paytm has stopped overseas travel by staff as a precautionary measure.
“If possible take personal transport for traveling to the office and other places, avoid public gatherings and wear N99 grade masks for ensuring safety,” the company said in an advisory. “Avoid non-essential international travel and keep yourself updated about the guidelines from health authorities.”
BigBasket CEO and cofounder Hari Menon said, “There won’t be any travel to the Far East for now. For instance, there was a conference in Thailand which the category team was to attend but they are not going now.”
Cognizant has stopped all travel to affected countries and restricted non-essential travel to neighbouring countries, a company executive with direct knowledge of the matter told ET.
IT companies are also seeing clients canceling visits. The UBS CIO who was due to visit India mid-February cancelled his trip due to travel restrictions. Several companies have flagged clients cancelling visits until the threat of contagion has passed.
Franklin Templeton has suspended business travel to China, Hong Kong, Singapore, northern Italy, South Korea and Japan.
“We are also discouraging personal travel to these regions, as well as nonbusiness critical travel to Asia,” it said. “Additionally, we have asked employees who have traveled to these areas or who have household members who have done so, to work from home for 14 days. We continue to update our travel policy as we receive new information.” Samsung Electronics is learnt to have sharply cut back on international travel of executives amid the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea. Business meetings are largely being conducted using the video-conferencing route, people aware of the matter said.
Telecom industry sources said that with the Covid-19 outbreak spreading across South Korea, Iran, Dubai, Italy and US, overseas travel plans of Bharti Airtel executives to Africa could be impacted in the near future as most flights to Africa are via Middle East or southern Europe. Airtel declined to respond to ET’s specific queries.
Cotton yarn and textile exporters have also cancelled trips. “The safety of the employees is our number one priority and hence we have issued an outright ban on travel to China and neighbouring countries up to April 15,” said Sanjay K Jain, MD of New Delhi-based TT Ltd, an integrated textile company.
Rajma (red kidney bean) importer Pradeep Kumar Runwal of Bherulal Radheshyam Bhandari, who had planned to visit China in February, to meet farmers and suppliers, has postponed his trip. According to him other Indian buyers who had to travel to Heilongjiang province, the Yian province and Port of Dalian in China too have cancelled their trips. “We are in touch with our suppliers via WhatsApp call,” he said.
Panasonic India has cautioned employees against travel to countries affected by the virus and has instead asked them to conduct meetings by video or teleconference.
It’s not just Italy in Europe that’s being struck off business travel itineraries. “A high-level multi-sectoral Indian delegation from Assocham was advised to postpone their travel to Greece, Athens,” said Niranjan Hiranandani, president of the grouping. “Also, we have curbed work travels under any non-essential situation to avoid any mishap in lieu of safety and security measures.”
Jewellers from Jaipur, who travel to Hong Kong, China and Thailand frequently for sourcing roughs and selling polished stones, have postponed travel.
“Two major gems and jewellery shows at Hong Kong have been postponed due to coronavirus where more than 200 jewellers from Jaipur and thousands from India were going to participate,” said Ajay Kala, secretary of the Jaipur Chamber of Commerce.
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