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As China reopens for business, what can Canada learn?

Wuhan, the Chinese city of 11 million considered ground zero for the COVID-19 virus, has emerged...

IMAGE: BOMA China executive director Dominic Lau, left, and BOMA Canada president and CEO Benjamin Shinewald participated in a COVID-19 webinar.. (Courtesy BOMA)

BOMA China executive director Dominic Lau, left, and BOMA Canada president and CEO Benjamin Shinewald participated in a COVID-19 webinar. (Courtesy BOMA)

Wuhan, the Chinese city of 11 million considered ground zero for the COVID-19 virus, has emerged from lockdown after 76 days, but it is not business as normal.

“Overall, everybody is still very nervous,” said Dominic Lau, the executive director of BOMA China, in a webinar April 8. “This is still a very tenuous time in China overall.”

While many prevention measures — such as wearing facemasks and undergoing temperature checks — remain in place, businesses are opening, people are walking and driving, and planes and trains are allowed to leave. Much of China was locked down to varying degrees through much of February, March and early April, but restrictions have been easing.

Lau was born and raised in Hong Kong and worked in the real estate industry in Calgary for several years before moving to Beijing a decade ago.

During a session moderated by BOMA Canada president and CEO, Benjamin Shinewald, he presented an overview of the current situation, and a case study of how one major office complex is handling the return to work by some of its tenants.

Businesses are ramping up again

As businesses ramp up again in China, companies have staggered start times for work so everyone’s not commuting at once.

Physical distancing is being relaxed, but there are still restrictions on the number of people allowed into a room.

While more people are using public transit again, everyone wears a face mask and observes proper hygiene. The lifting of driving restrictions allows more cars on the roads and less personal interaction.

“A second wave (of the virus) has appeared in Hong Kong and some parts of Japan,” said Lau. “In China, there’s no second wave yet, but everyone’s still kind of nervous about it.”

Initially there were shortages of face masks, protective gear, sanitizer and other protective goods, due largely to the outbreak starting a week before Chinese New Year when many businesses and factories were shutting down to allow employees to celebrate the holiday.

Lau said production has “started to crank back up” since mid-March.

Six thousand companies have been registered to manufacture face masks, Lau said, and 150 million are now being made each day in China.

Guangzhou International Finance Center

Lau shared a detailed case study on how COVID-19 has been dealt with at the Guangzhou International Finance Center in Guangzhou, a city of 15 million in southern China.

The 103-storey skyscraper, completed in 2010, encompasses 2.69 million square feet. The BOMA BEST-certified building, which has a Four Seasons hotel on the top of office space, accommodates 7,000 occupants and 1,800 visitors a day.

Guangzhou International Finance Center’s owners and managers started developing a back-to-work plan in January. Implementation of the plan began in mid-February, when people started returning to work, and Lau said the building hasn’t had a confirmed COVID-19 case since reopening.

The list of precautions is extensive, including:

* separate fresh and return air venting, with no return-air circulation between floors;

* tenants must complete a “business resumption” application, and employees entering the building undergo rigourous screening and daily temperature checks;

* visitors are prohibited unless they apply a day before entering and are subject to similar screening;

* extensive communication about personal protective measures and practices, right down to using personal items like your cell phone or keyboard, or items more likely to be used by multiple people such as door handles.

The webinar can be viewed and the Guangzhou International Finance Center case study can be downloaded from the coronavirus page on BOMA Canada’s website.

Other Chinese updates

The capital of Beijing now seems to be the most cautious city in the nation of 1.4 billion. Anyone entering the city is quarantined or ordered to self-isolate; residents remain under similar restrictive conditions to those in Canada.

Chinese citizens are tracked and monitored very closely as a matter of course under their government,  Lau said, largely through cell phones. This has been accentuated even more during the COVID-19 crisis.

While there would likely be major privacy concerns in Canada with some of the data surveillance measures that are accepted in China, they’ve allowed authorities to get a better and much faster handle on people who are infected.

“They know where you are and know where you’ve been,” said Lau. “The effectiveness of this flattening the (infection) curve is because of the quick communication, tracking and testing.”

COVID-19 in Canada

Emergency management specialist Susan Bazak of Bazak Consulting, a major contributor to the 2019 BOMA Canada Guide to Pandemic Planning, provided a status report on COVID-19 in Canada as part of the webinar.

This included a broad overview of: how COVID-19 has spread in Canada, the United States and globally; general mitigation strategies adopted in Canada; Canadian government responses; and COVID-19’s impact on the Canadian healthcare system.

Bazak Consulting works with private and public companies, non-governmental organizations, and education sector clients to build disaster-resilient entities and prepare stakeholders for emergencies.

Bazak said critical considerations for businesses at this time are: protecting your stakeholders’ health and safety; communicating effectively; and ensuring essential business continues.

Bazak said companies need to:

* plan for expected staff shortages;

* expect and prepare for subsequent waves of COVID-19 infections, which could have varying severity levels, since a vaccine to prevent it may not be available for 18 months;

* have ongoing conversations with suppliers;

* and consider how supply chains and transportation could be impacted.

Bazak also talked about helpful resources for companies, many of which can be found on the BOMA Canada coronavirus page.


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