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A Chinese couple wear protective masks as they walk in an empty shopping area that would usually be busy during the Lunar New Year holiday, on Jan. 28, 2020, in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Canadian companies are banning travel to China and instructing staff to work from home if they have recently gone there as the deadly coronavirus that began in Wuhan spreads around the world.

The novel coronavirus had killed at least 100 people and infected thousands of others as of Tuesday, with more than 4,600 confirmed cases in China. Those numbers have put a chill on companies that do business in China and cast uncertainty on future plans.

At investment giant CI Financial Corp., for example, the human resources department sent a memo to employees to ask them to halt or reschedule any planned trips to China and Hong Kong.

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“During this time of uncertainty, we request that all employees planning to travel to Hong Kong and China cancel or delay their travel until the virus is contained,” according to the internal memo. “All employees who have travelled to Hong Kong or China anytime after Jan. 12, 2020, are asked to work from home for 14 days following their last departure from those areas, including those who have already returned to work.”

CI Financial spokesman Murray Oxby said on Tuesday that the company has a small investment research office in Hong Kong, where analysts focus on the Asian economy.

Bank of Montreal said it has implemented precautionary measures to help protect the health of its employees. “Business travel is banned to Wuhan, and Hubei province, and any employees returning from these areas are required to work from home for 14 days,” BMO spokesman Paul Gammal said in an e-mail.

BMO has a fully incorporated subsidiary in China that allows it to take deposits, called BMO China Co., and it has roots in the country that date back to the 1800s.

Concerns are escalating that the coronavirus has spread rapidly both inside and outside China.

Graham Shantz, president of the Canada China Business Council, said Canadian corporations are postponing travel plans to China until authorities such as the World Health Organization provide signs that the virus crisis is nearing an end. “There are real operational impacts for members with a presence in China because they’re delaying their trips, which can delay contracts and decisions as well,” Mr. Shantz said.

Lumber producer Canfor Corp. has cancelled flights that had been booked in the coming weeks to China. The Vancouver-based forestry company, whose business includes lumber exports to China, said it is staying abreast of global health recommendations as it alters travel schedules and also takes precautions within British Columbia.

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“Employees who have recently been to China are being asked to report their travel to their supervisor and consider remote work options for approximately 14 days following their return to Canada,” Canfor spokeswoman Michelle Ward said.

At Canadian insurer Manulife Financial Corp., no travel ban to China was announced on Tuesday, but the company is taking precautions. “We are taking appropriate preventive measures according to the needs of different markets, including reminders on personal and office hygiene, more frequent office cleaning, and encouraging employees to work from home,” Manulife spokesman Sean Pasternak said in an e-mail.

Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd., Canada largest diversified mining company, also said it has measures in place to minimize health risks for its staff. Teck has 15 workers based at offices in Beijing and Shanghai. “Our first priority is always the health and safety of our people, and we are closely monitoring the situation,” Teck spokesman Chris Stannell said.

Air Canada has scaled back its schedule to China. “In response to the coronavirus situation, we are cancelling select flights to China to better match capacity with expected demand,” Canada’s largest airline said in a statement. “Air Canada currently operates 33 flights a week to China and the resulting capacity reduction is relatively small. Those customers who are affected will be notified.”

Canada’s benchmark S&P/TSX Composite Index rose 0.3 per cent on Tuesday after dropping 0.7 per cent on Monday. Air Canada shares, which are part of the index, gained 0.8 per cent on Tuesday after a 7.6-per-cent decline on Monday amid investors’ jitters over the impact of the coronavirus on the carrier’s global network.

With a report from James Bradshaw

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