When Should Business Travel to Asia Resume?


All over the globe, nations are taking steps to reopen their economies, while keeping a watchful eye on COVID-19 statistics at home and abroad. In New York City, where our Genimex office is located, a masked Gov. Andrew Cuomo rode the subway on Monday, June 8 to inaugurate Phase One of the city’s reopening. With more than 20,000 COVID-19 fatalities, New York City’s toll exceeds all but a handful of countries. Yet, more than 400,000 workers eagerly returned to their jobs and greater progress is hoped for in the days and weeks ahead. If you represent a company contracting its manufacturing to Asia, you are probably anxious to get operations back to normal as well. For you, normal may mean visiting the site where your work is done. But when exactly will that be possible?

As early as March 11, travel writer James Asquith was sharing good news from mainland China in an article on forbes.com. While the rest of the world was initiating strict lockdowns, Asquith noted that “in China, which has been hit hardest by the Coronavirus outbreak, life is starting to return back to normal.” Asquith observed that as of March 11 “Apple has reopened 38 of their 42 stores on the mainland that were previously all shuttered.” Meanwhile, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak had “just closed the last of their temporary Coronavirus hospitals.”

At that time, Chinese air travel was strictly limited as “just a handful of flights, mostly from India, operate to China with most airlines keeping flights grounded.” Nevertheless, Chinese President Xi Jinping was eager for “life to get back to normal,” since “the number of new reported virus cases are at their lowest since the outbreak began.” On March 11, China reported only 13 new cases of COVID-19.

Of course, China has been accused of underreporting COVID-19 cases and deaths. China had reported zero COVID-19 deaths per day for almost a solid month before announcing 1,290 deaths in April 17. Daily reported deaths have stood at zero ever since, though case outbreaks have been sporadically reported. Nevertheless, the U.S. Dept. of State maintains its Level 4 Health Emergency Travel Warning, which went into effect on March 31.

Yet, if the outside world is wary of China, the feeling is very much reciprocated. A recent article in time.com quotes a Hong Kong University professor, saying “I think the U.S. and Europe are a long way away from being able to restart travel…. [Parts of] the U.S. are already opening although their [COVID-19] numbers remain relatively high. I think it’s going to be difficult for them to get their numbers down to a low level to be able to begin travel again.”

According to chinabriefing.com, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) began opening air travel at the end of March, when it announced its “Five One” policy, which closed borders to almost all foreigners. This allowed a Chinese airline to maintain just “one international route to any specific country – with no more than one flight every week.” On June 8, the CAAC started to allow more foreign airlines to join the five-one policy, which operated one international passenger flight to one Chinese city per week.

The China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) on March 26 stated that foreigners holding the following visas, even valid ones, are not allowed to enter China:

  • Chinese visa
  • Residence permit
  • APEC business travel card; and/or
  • Port visa

There are other various bans that apply and other visas that will not be affected such as diplomatic, service, courtesy or C visas stated in this article here.

Airlines have been required to operate under pandemic restrictions imposed in March, which means no quarantine for passengers flying between most Chinese provinces, but a 14-day quarantine upon arrival for international travelers arriving in China. This requirement naturally drove down the demand for international travel.

In May, however, China and South Korea opened a tightly controlled travel corridor between Seoul and 10 Chinese regions, including Shanghai. And, as time.com reports, “Since May 1, some South Korean business travelers have been able to enter China without a lengthy quarantine—provided they take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and stay at a government facility for one or two days while waiting for the results.” Also, in May, Hong Kong, which had been enforcing a 14-day quarantine, initiated a quarantine waiver for business travelers.

China signed a “fast track” agreement with Singapore, which enables both travelers on both sides to enter each other’s territories without serving quarantine periods, according to asianikkei.com. For those flights, “Travelers are required to take coronavirus tests 48 hours before departure. Those from Singapore will be issued a 14-day stay-at-home mandate after returning from China.”

Then on June 4, CAAC announced it would permit more foreign carriers into the country, still limiting them to one international passenger flight per week, beginning June 8. The United States countered by saying it would “permit Chinese passenger air carriers to operate two flights per week.” Airlines must apply for clearance from CAAC in advance. “Business travelers must check if their flight is approved by the CAAC, or they will risk having their air tickets cancelled.”

To boost the confidence of travelers, “The International Civil Aviation Organization — an agency of the United Nations — published guidelines [in June] … based on advice from the World Health Organization.” The phased approach suggests that passengers and flight crew wear masks, equipment be routinely sanitized, and airlines institute “contact tracing for passengers as well as aviation employees.” ICAO guidelines do not advise quarantines or compulsory testing.

Meanwhile, Vietnam “with just 270 cases and zero coronavirus deaths,” is the “first Southeast Asian country to pull its tourism sector out the pits,” according to a recent article on skift.com.  While other ASEAN states were “still under various degrees of lockdown,” Vietnam began reopening on April 23, meaning that “Domestic flights are now back in operation, as are bus and train services, restaurants, and retail outlets.” As for international flights, Vietnam is working “to create reciprocal travel bubbles with China and South Korea,” as well as other regional destinations. The U.S. State Department has not restricted travel to Vietnam, advising travelers only to take normal precautions.

From our perspective, we believe that unfortunately business travelers from the US will not probably visit China in 2020. Fortunately, with Genimex, you can have eyes and ears on the ground, observing processes and advocating for you. Throughout the COVID-19 disruption, our oversight of our clients’ projects did not miss a beat. And through our Basecamp platform, as well as via email and phone, we have maintained daily communications to give our clients up-to-the-moment information and much needed peace of mind.