CapitaLand, more Singapore companies suspend some businesses in China amid Wuhan virus spread

SINGAPORE - Property giant CapitaLand and more Singapore-listed companies announced temporary closures of businesses in China as the coronavirus death toll and number of infections there continue to rise.

CapitaLand has closed all four of its malls in Wuhan, where the virus outbreak originated, and both of its malls in Xi'an, as required by the respective local authorities, it said on Wednesday morning (Jan 29). Its supermarkets in CapitaMall Westgate, Wuhan and CapitaMall Xindicheng, Xi'an remain open to ensure the supply of food and daily essentials to the local communities. The six CapitaLand malls in Wuhan and Xi'an will reopen when local conditions permit.

Meanwhile, the company's remaining 45 malls across China - located in cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai - continue to operate with shorter hours. CapitaLand said it will continue to review its properties' operating hours in line with local conditions and regulations.

CapitaLand also said that its wholly owned lodging unit The Ascott Ltd is proactively extending assistance to guests whose travel plans to China have been disrupted. This includes accommodating its guests if they need to stay longer and waiving cancellation fees for guests who have to change their travel plans.

All CapitaLand properties in China have adopted precautionary measures, in accordance with guidelines from the health authorities. These include conducting temperature checks at its properties and intensifying cleaning and disinfecting of common areas. CapitaLand will also conduct contact tracing and have designated premises at its properties for the isolation of those suspected to be infected with the virus.

CapitaLand, through its philanthropic arm, CapitaLand Hope Foundation, has set up a 10 million yuan (S$1.96 million) healthcare fund to assist nationwide medical and healthcare related efforts in China's fight against the outbreak.

The first phase of the fund will be disbursed for the procurement of medical supplies, protective gear and testing kits for hospitals in Wuhan.

In Singapore, CapitaLand said it has implemented precautionary measures in line with guidelines from the authorities. Besides stepping up cleaning efforts, hand sanitisers are available for tenants, shoppers and guests in the properties. There are also designated premises with predetermined routes within its properties for the isolation of those suspected to be infected with the virus. Security teams will escort any suspected cases to the ambulance pick-up point. CapitaLand said it would step up precautionary measures further where necessary.

At construction sites, CapitaLand will take measures in accordance with the advisory issued by the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore. This includes advising main contractors, in particular, to adopt practices such as implementing a robust sickness surveillance process to identify and manage unwell employees as well as to maintain a site attendance record and visitors' contact information for traceability.

Its employees here will defer all non-critical travel especially to China and affected countries with known or suspected cases of the virus. Staff who have just returned from China are advised to check their temperature twice a day for 14 days. During the 14-day monitoring period, they are advised to adopt flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting and teleconferencing.

CapitaLand also stressed on Wednesday that it has in place business continuity plans (BCP) to enable the group to continue its critical activities and minimise impact to operations. It has set up a special task force to coordinate its response across its operations in China and in its other markets.

Mr Lee Chee Koon, group chief executive officer, said: "To date, the group's business operations, including in China and Singapore, remain largely stable. Our priority is to focus on ensuring the well-being of our tenants, shoppers, guests and employees. We are all in this together during these trying times."

Mr Manohar Khiatani, senior executive director of CapitaLand Group, who has been appointed as the group BCP commander, said its plans include working from alternate sites, working from home and the use of teleconferencing.

 
 
 

"Where necessary, operational personnel will be divided into primary and alternate teams. We will continue to monitor developments and the authorities' directives, take the necessary steps to minimise impact to our operations and update our stakeholders in a timely manner," he said.

A day earlier, three other Singapore-listed companies announced precautionary measures for their China operations.

On Tuesday evening, Straco Corporation said it has temporarily closed three attractions in China - Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, Underwater World Xiamen and Lixing Cable Car - to help prevent the spread of the Wuhan virus.

The manager of Dasin Retail Trust, meanwhile, said the Reit's five retail malls in China have shortened their business hours except for those outlets providing basic public services such as supermarkets and certain food and beverage services. Cinemas, KTVs, ice skating rinks, bookstores and other crowded places within the malls have been temporarily closed.

Earlier on Tuesday, the manager of Sasseur Real Estate Investment Trust (Sasseur Reit) said it had temporarily shuttered its four outlet malls in China.

Singapore-listed companies with direct ties with China have been hit hard since trading resumed on Tuesday after the long Lunar Year weekend. 

Shares of CapitaLand, for example, fell 19 cents or 4.9 per cent to $3.70 on Tuesday before its announcement. On Wednesday, the stock edged down one cent or 0.3 per cent to $3.69 by the midday trading break.

Before its announcement, Straco Corp, which gets 73 per cent of its revenue from China, was the worst hit on Tuesday as its shares sank 6.5 cents or 10.6 per cent to 55 cents. By Wednesday noon, the counter was down 0.5 cent or 0.9 per cent to 54.5 cents.

Units of Dasin Retail Trust, meanwhile, slipped 0.5 cent or 0.6 per cent to 83 cents. 

Sasseur Reit, whose units sank 10.3 per cent on Tuesday after its announcement, was trading up two cents or 2.6 per cent to 80.5 cents by midday on Wednesday.