European executives charter flights to return to China

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Companies from Germany, France and Switzerland plan to charter planes to bring their executives back to China amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Chinese authorities are likely to open express channels to facilitate their comeback and revitalize economic activity, sources told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The German Chamber of Commerce in China is organizing a flight with Lufthansa to assist German executives to fly back to China. The flight will leave from Frankfurt and land on Shanghai on May 25, an employee of a German firm told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Other European countries such as Switzerland and France may also charter flights to get corporate executives back to China, a person familiar with the matter told the Global Times.

“We are in constant contact with our members as well as with the Swiss and Chinese authorities. There is an urgent need for travel and we do our best to help develop solutions that take into account this need and take care of everyone’s safety,” Daniela Reinau, deputy general manager of the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

In view of the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the world, China on March 28 temporarily suspended entry by most foreign nationals.

In a bid to reduce the coronavirus’ hit on the economy, efforts will be made as soon as possible to open up “express access” for exchanges of key business representatives and technicians, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday.

Foreign firms play a vital role in driving economic growth as the country has largely contained the outbreak in the country, industry insiders said. Shanghai, which has the largest number of headquarters of foreign companies in the Chinese mainland, are striving to revive economic activity by helping foreign managers return.

The process won’t be easy, industry insiders said.

“For instance, we must first apply to local district authorities in Shanghai where the Chinese branch is located, and show that the foreign executives are crucially needed for performing economic, trade, scientific or technological activity,” an employee of a Chinese branch of a German company based in Shanghai told the Global Times on Wednesday.

“The foreign national can get an invitation after all the documents are processed and approved by local authorities, and the process may take a week… then he may apply for a new visa at a Chinese embassy or consulate,” the person said. After the foreign manger gets a visa, a flight to China can be booked.

“But the process for obtaining a visa will also be affected by the pandemic situation in the foreign national’s home country,” he said.

“The process is complicated, but many foreign firms understand it is necessary to take such measures to prevent the virus from spreading and we should cooperate,” the employee said.

Passengers must take COVID-19 tests and offer proof of negative test results that were valid within 48 hours before departure from Germany. They will also need to go through 48-hour quarantine after arrival in Shanghai. During quarantine in Shanghai, a mandatory COVID-19 and antibody test will be required for each passenger, the employee said.

China requires international travelers to the country to undergo a 14-day quarantine, which was mandatory, said Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University.

But since China has largely contained the virus, it is possible that the quarantine period could be shortened in some circumstances, like those of German managers returning to work in China. They are required to take COVID-19 tests before they depart, Yang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The results of an antibody test can be known within hours, so the two-day quarantine can ensure safety, Yang noted.

Edmund Yang, a Pricewaterhouse Coopers partner in Beijing, told the Global Times that some of the firm’s clients want to get their staff back to China as early as possible.

“Some multinational companies are exploring the options for bringing their expatriates back to China, including applying for special approval from the relevant authorities and arranging charter flights,” he said.

As of April 28, 76.6 percent of foreign companies in China had resumed more than 70 percent of their production capacity, according a survey of 8,200 key foreign-funded firms in the Chinese market by the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

The number of newly established foreign-funded firms in China reached 9,616 in the first quarter, with foreign direct investment up 6.5 percent year-on-year to 242.28 billion yuan ($34.16 billion), data from the MOFCOM showed.

The German Chamber of Commerce did not comment when reached by the Global Times on Wednesday.

Source: Global Times