China: Business action and alleged inaction in response to spread of Wuhan novel coronavirus 2020

The novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China was declared by the World Health Organization as a global public health emergency on 31 January when the outbreak continues to spread within and outside China and new cases are observed in countries and cities across the world. As of 13 February 2020, tens of thousands of people are infected by the virus and over a thousand people have lost their lives, according to official figures.

In China, despite the virus outbreak, some factories have resumed normal operation after the Lunar New Year holiday. In Wuhan, where the virus originated, sanitation, construction and community workers as well as drivers struggle to keep the city functioning despite the lack of adequate protective gear.

In some countries, some firms have quarantined or stopped workers returning from China from resuming work to prevent the spread of the virus. In the US, American Airlines’ pilots have filed a lawsuit to seek an immediate halt of flights to China; airlines across the world have also adopted measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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Article
30 March 2020

China: Government launches investigation into company accused of selling faulty coronavirus test kits to other countries

Author: Fox News

“China launches investigation into company behind faulty coronavirus test kits sold to Spain”, 28 March 2020

A Chinese government regulatory group announced… that it is investigating Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology, the company accused of selling faulty coronavirus kits at marked-up prices to countries like Spain and the Czech Republic in desperate need of them.

The news comes following complaints from Spain that about 70 percent of the kits it purchased were too inaccurate to be used to diagnose patients who were sick and stuck in emergency rooms.

Bioeasy blamed the incorrect results on a failure to collect samples and use the kits correctly, adding that company representatives had not properly communicated with buyers on how the kits worked.

Spain's faulty test kits were purchased a few weeks ago through a Spanish supplier that imported them from China, Reuters reported.

China admitted that Bioeasy had not been licensed by the government to make them. However, the time and money Spain wasted on faulty supplies could have devastating effects on a country that is now in its second week of a national lockdown after cases of COVID-19 spiked.

In all, Spain has bought $467 million in medical supplies from China, including 950 ventilators, 5.5 million testing kits, 11 million gloves and more than half a billion protective face masks…

Up to 80 percent of the 150,000 portable, rapid-test kits China sent to the Czech Republic were faulty, according to Expats.cz, a local Czech news site.

While the tests can produce results in about 15 minutes, there is an extraordinarily high failure rate, forcing places like the Czech Republic to continue to rely on conventional laboratory tests which take a lot longer…

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Article
27 March 2020

China: More workers might lose jobs due to global coronavirus spread despite reopening of factories

Author: Reuters

“China's factories reopen, only to fire workers as virus shreds global trade”, 26 March 2020

… Early in the outbreak, China imposed tough travel restrictions and factory suspensions to curb the spread of the virus, squeezing labor supplies and sending exporters scrambling to fulfill orders.

Now, the reverse is happening - overseas orders are being scrapped as the pandemic ravages the economies of China’s trading partners…

Shi [a Chinese factory owner] said he would slow production and might suspend all output soon if business does not improve.

He also told the 50-odd workers who have yet to return from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak in China, to find jobs elsewhere…

… state-owned Securities Times reported Good Will Watch Case Manufacturing, a supplier to the U.S. watch brand Fossil (FOSL.O), would put its more than 600 workers on leave for at least three months…

… China’s urban jobless rate hit 6.2% in February, up one percentage point from the end of 2019, and a record since the statistics bureau started publishing the data in early 2018.

Dan Wang, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), said the jobless rate could go up by another 5 percentage points this year, which corresponds to an additional 22 million in urban unemployment, on top of an estimated 5 million jobs lost in January-February…

A 23-year-old salesman at a mirror factory in Yiwu in Zhejiang province said U.S. clients canceled over $500,000 of orders on Saturday alone.

Some of the factory’s more than 1,000 workers have since been suspended while others are given more days off per week, the salesman said, declining to be named.

“I think the company will start to lay off people soon,” he said.

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Article
17 March 2020

China: Collective protests, mainly in service and transport industries, resume as workers return to work

Author: China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

“Collective protests begin to flare up again as China returns to work”, 17 March 2020

After a month in which there were virtually no worker protests in China because much of the country was on lockdown, workers are beginning to take collective action again. Many protests have been related to the economic distress caused by the covid-19 epidemic.

China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 25 incidents since businesses outside the central province of Hubei tentatively resumed production after the extended Lunar New Year break in mid- and late-February…

Many of the protests were in service and transport industries that were already experiencing economic difficulties prior to the covid-19 outbreak.

On 10 March, for example, more than a thousand taxi drivers in the southwestern city of Liuzhou staged a protest demanding the suspension of cab rental fees and the right to sell their vehicle back to the cab company with no penalty…

There was a noticeable increase in the number of taxi driver protests prior to the covid-19 outbreak at the end of last year as pent-up frustrations over local government regulations, cab company management and especially competition from ride-app and unlicensed drivers erupted in a series of large-scale and sometimes violent protests.

Most of the recent worker protests have been related to wage arrears and layoffs. Several workers at a snack food company in Beijing, for example, staged a protest on 10 March after the company refused to pay three months’ wages in arrears totalling nearly 400,000 yuan even after an arbitration court ordered it to pay up…

In another Beijing protest, workers demonstrated against the mandatory unpaid leave policy implemented by online service provider 58.com that would only give staff a subsidy equal to 80 percent of the local monthly minimum wage, far from a living wage…

Construction workers, including some workers who were recruited to build emergency hospitals for covid-19 patients in Wuhan, have also been forced to protest over unpaid wages. Most recently workers at a construction site in Zhoukou, Henan, were beaten after staging a wage arrears protest.

As normal production gradually resumes in China, workers who are already struggling after months of economic disruption will be more determined than ever to ensure their rights to remuneration, social insurance and compensation are not violated.

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Article
11 March 2020

China: Returning workers' safety and compensation remain in question as Hubei province set to gradually resume normal production

Author: China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

“Hubei set for a gradual return to work”, 9 March 2020

Hubei, the province at the centre of the covid-19 epidemic in China, is scheduled to resume normal production on Wednesday 11 March. However, it is still unclear exactly how that resumption will be coordinated.

While all other provinces have already implemented measures to facilitate a return to work, the Hubei government has continually pushed back the date for the resumption of non-essential industries because of the heightened risk of infection…

A definitive provincial government policy has yet to be announced but it seems more likely that there will be phased resumption of production starting with those districts and enterprises with a lower risk of infection…

Business leaders have stressed the need for the Hubei government to come up with a clear plan that can guarantee supply chain integrity, allow staff currently under lockdown to resume work, and ensure businesses have sufficient protective equipment for returning workers.

Across China as a whole, the government estimates that 78 million migrant workers have already returned to work…

Despite continued restrictions in many parts of the country, reports suggest that the express delivery industry, which employs large numbers of migrant workers, has nearly returned to normal with around 90 percent of post office and private courier company staff returning to work by the end of February. If covid-19 control measures continue to work, it is hoped that the express delivery industry will see a complete return to work by mid-March.

For returning workers, however, many questions remain unanswered. How will they be compensated (if at all) for their forced time off, can their employer guarantee a safe working environment and what happens if there is another covid-19 outbreak at their workplace?

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Article
10 March 2020

China: Hanwang Technology says it has developed country's first facial recognition technology to identify mask wearers

Author: Reuters

“Even mask-wearers can be ID'd, China facial recognition firm says”, 9 March 2020

A Chinese company says it has developed the country’s first facial recognition technology that can identify people when they are wearing a mask, as most are these days because of the coronavirus, and help in the fight against the disease…

… Hanwang Technology Ltd, which also goes by the English name Hanvon, said it has come up technology that can successfully recognize people even when they are wearing masks.

“If connected to a temperature sensor, it can measure body temperature while identifying the person’s name, and then the system would process the result, say, if it detects a temperature over 38 degrees,” Hanwang Vice President Huang Lei told Reuters in an interview…

The team began work on the system in January, as the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace, and began rolling it out to the market after just a month.

It sells two main types of products that use the technology. One performs “single channel” recognition that is best used at, for example, entrances to office buildings.

The other, more powerful, product is a “multi-channel” recognition system that uses “multiple surveillance cameras”.

It can identify everyone in a crowd of up to 30 people “within a second”, Huang says.

“When wearing a mask, the recognition rate can reach about 95%, which can ensure that most people can be identified,” Huang said, adding the success rate for people without mask is about 99.5%.

A big customer… is the Ministry of Public Security, which runs the police…

But the system struggles to identify people with both a mask and sunglasses, he said…

The company has about 200 clients in Beijing using the technology, including the police, and expect scores more across 20 provinces to start installing it soon, Huang said…

When it comes to other surveillance tools being used in the fight against the coronavirus, there has been some grumbling on social media but most people seem to be accepting extra intrusion, or even embracing it, as a means to deal with the health emergen

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Article
5 March 2020

Hong Kong: Youtube reportedly says it's "sorry" for demonetising coronavirus-related videos at meeting with Youtubers

Author: Stand News (Hong Kong)

[Excerpt translation provided by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre]

“Youtube says it's "sorry" for “yellow marker” as coronavirus situation is categorized as “sensitive topic”; Youtuber: there is pressure from international institutions”, 4 March 2020

The “Yellow Marker” incident induced by the Wuahn coronavirus epidemic has led netizens to question whether Youtube is suppressing freedom of speech.  Some even initiated a petition against Youtube’s censorship to the White House. Youtube sent some representatives from the Asia Pacific region to attend a meeting with renowned Youtubers. While apologizing for the incident, the representatives emphasized that they have not violated1 the freedom of speech. According to Youtuber Wong Yeung-ling who also attended the meeting, representatives from Youtube mentioned that artificial Intelligence was involved in the incident and that they have pressured senior staff. A spokesperson from Google, Youtube’s parent company, said that as content related to the novel coronavirus is categorized as “controversial issues and sensitive events” under its advertiser-friendly content guidelines, advertising revenue would be restricted or could not be generated. The spokesperson also emphasized that no political stance is involved when reviewing whether the video content meets the monetization policy.

When interviewed by Stand News, Wong Yeung-ling said that according to the Youtube representatives, since 30 January “there has been pressure from supervisors” who ordered that the global coronavirus situation should be taken seriously; rumours and fake news should be stopped from spreading and rigid measures should be adopted if needed, though involving parties have already told senior staff members that they did not agree with handling the matter rigidly…

Wong also said that representatives from Youtube proposed that a trial reporting mechanism could be introduced to allow Youtuber to self-report and appeal more specifically. The general procedures are that Youtubers who have been “yellow marked” could fill in a content declaration form and declare whether violence, pornography or other inappropriate content is involved in the videos. After that, the video could be set to be published at a later time; if the video is soon “yellow marked” automatically, the video could be sent to Youtube for manual checking before publishing. Youtube staff could consider whether the Youtuber has made an accurate declaration according to the new reporting mechanism; if the content is not problematic and the declaration is accurate, it is likely that the yellow marker will be removed.

Besides, Wong and a few other participants mentioned in the meeting that though many newly uploaded videos are “unrelated to the epidemic” , they are yellow marked automatically; It is almost like the entire channel has been put into the yellow mark observation list. In response, the Youtube representatives said at the meeting that they have also made similar observations and enquired the technical department, which replied that technicians have not set up “accumulative yellow marks” that are said to cause all videos to be yellow marked “regardless of the topics”. The exact cause of the phenomenon was not clarified at the meeting.

As for accusations of suppressing freedom of speech, Wong said that representatives from Youtube repeatedly emphasized that the incident is unrelated to freedom of speech. They also said that they cherished the platform ecology formed by advertisers, audience and Youtuber. They added that the incident does not involve the removal of videos, only that no advertising revenue would be generated with the yellow marks, which should not count as a form of suppressing freedom of speech.

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Article
4 March 2020

China: WeChat censors even neutral messages about coronavirus epidemic, digital media research group says

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

“How WeChat censored even neutral messages about the coronavirus in China”, 3 March 2020

China’s most popular messaging app censored a range of neutral chat group references to the coronavirus epidemic, potentially threatening public access to essential health and safety information, according to a digital media research group.

As well as politically sensitive terms, the researchers found that WeChat censored keyword combinations ranging from discussions of Chinese leaders’ responses to the outbreak, neutral references to government policies on handling the epidemic, responses to the outbreak in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, and references to Li Wenliang, a doctor who died after raising concerns about the outbreak.

The analysis was conducted by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and based on tests of keywords extracted from reports on major news websites in mainland China and Hong Kong…

WeChat, a hugely popular social media app with more than 1.1 billion active monthly users, started to censor group discussions on the coronavirus from January 1, one day after Li Wenliang warned his medical colleagues in a private chat group about a suspected outbreak, the researchers said.

During the period, the platform censored at least 516 keyword combinations – in both simplified and traditional Chinese – directly related to the coronavirus, with a noticeable increase in February…

It was not clear whether WeChat blocked these keyword combinations based on government directives or on its own initiative…

Censorship is tighter on group chats than one-to-one messaging, and on domestic than international users. Overseas users can see websites and messages that are not accessible to users in China, even when they are part of the same chat group.

WeChat did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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Article
27 February 2020

China: Tech companies launch new tracking features to curb coronavirus outbreak, fuels debate over privacy and use of data

Author: Reuters

“China rolls out fresh data collection campaign to combat coronavirus”, 26 February 2020

China’s local governments are ramping up surveillance efforts with new data collection campaigns to better trace residents’ moves in public areas, seeking to curb the coronavirus outbreak but heightening privacy concerns. At least 15 provinces and cities [in China] with a combined population of over 358 million have announced such “big data” measures… adding to a host of monitoring tools already being used, such as facial recognition and phone data tracking…

Some regions are also instructing residents to use newly launched features by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Alipay and Tencent Holdings Ltd’s WeChat apps. Users fill in a questionnaire to obtain a obtain colour-based QR code which then acts as guidance at checkpoints as to whether the person should be quarantined or let through…

Authorities say the tools allows them to more accurately and quickly find infected people especially as millions of people resume work after an extended holiday.

But the additional measures are fuelling debate over privacy and the extent and uses of the data repository China is building on its citizens…

“Of course governments have the responsibility to protect public health and safety but these measures have to balance other rights as well, including privacy rights,” said Maya Wang, China senior researcher at Human Rights Watch…

Some government officials acknowledge privacy concerns and have offered reassurances.

Liu Yuewen, who heads Yunnan province’s department of public security’s big data expert group, said individuals’ privacy would be protected, and the data would be destroyed when efforts to control the epidemic end…

It was unclear whether all the data collected goes to a central depository or was analysed on a national level, as local authorities often used their own systems made by different companies.

The Binhai New Area in the coastal city of Tianjin, for instance, uses a platform made by Tianjin Teda Smart City Technology Co. Some of those used in the southern province of Guangxi are made by China-ASEAN Information Harbor, which describes itself on its website as a state-backed technology platform created to aid China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

Alipay created its coloured QR code feature with the Hangzhou government, while the health tracking feature in Tencent’s WeChat was launched in collaboration with a division of China’s National Development and Reform Council (NDRC).

Alipay deferred questions to various government departments who provide and operate the services, saying it does not have access to the related data.

Tencent said none of its efforts to fight the virus involved the real-time tracking of people or virus movements.

Third-party developers, such as those who offer health code services via WeChat Mini Programs, are required to adhere to the platform’s data security requirements and anonymised user data was only accessible by the mini program’s developer, Tencent said…

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Lawsuit
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Author: NOWnews

[日本語翻訳記事提供: 経済人コー円卓会議日本委員会]

「フォ・シェンシャン病院、賃金の滞納と不十分なマスク提供により非難を受ける。国営メディア:労働者が自発的に給与を放棄する」2020年2月19日

・・・フォ・シェンシャン病院は、武漢のコロナウイルス肺炎患者を治療するために10日間で建設され、2月4日に営業を開始しました。・・・

フォ・シェンシャン病院の質は、広範囲の懸念を引き起こしています。

加えて、建設に携わった労働者が、賃金の滞納や、マスク・必要な物資、飲み水などを十分に提供されず苦しんでいるという噂があります。

すでに削除されたFarmers’ Dailyが発行したレポートによると、10人以上の移民労働者への給与支払いが遅延しています。

Farmers’ Dailyの記者がフォ・シェンシャン病院の外の仮説工事現場を訪れました。一部の労働者が、自分たちは請負業者を通じて採用され給与は日数ベースで計算される、と記者に語りました。

Tang Binと呼ばれる労働者は、請負業者は仕事の初日以降は給与を支払わず、3日分が未払いのままだと述べました。

流行防止規則にのっとれば、労働者たちはフェイスマスクを4時間ごとに交換すべきですが、彼らに与えられたのは、1日につき1個のマスクと1本のミネラルウオーターだけでした。 

そのため、Tangは自分で水を買わなければなりませんでした。

こうした申し立てがある一方で、労働者の食料と宿泊施設は保証されていました。

Farmers’ Dailyの記事が削除された後、netizensネチズン(現実社会からインターネットなどのコンピュータネットワークに移住したかように、積極的活発的に活動するユーザーのこと)は、ソーシャルプラットフォーム上で多くの人が、フォ・シェンシャン病院の建設労働者の多くが「賃金はいらないと主張している」と友人から伝え聞いた人からの人づて情報を再投稿し続けていることを発見しました。

これらの労働者は、武漢は今、大変な苦境にあるので、自分たちができることをしたいと主張しました。

建設現場で供給された食べ物と飲み物は十分な量でした。

 フォ・シェンシャン病院の請負業者である中国建設第三エンジニアリング局は、賃金の滞納はなく、賃金はアウトソーシング業者と請負業者に事前に支払われたと回答し、この件に関し調査を進め、解明に努めていると述べました。

中国建設第三エンジニアリング局の代表は、Jian Kang Shi Bao(出版社)に対し、一部の労働者は賃金を受け取らなかったが、何人かは支払いも受け取らず連絡先も残さずに去ったボランティアだったと語りました。

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Article
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Author: Reuters

[日本語翻訳記事提供: 経済人コー円卓会議日本委員会]

「Huawei、中国のチップメーカーはウイルスの発生にも関わらず工場の操業を続けています」2020年2月3日

中国の一部のテクノロジー企業は、政府がさまざまな都市や省で、新型コロナウイルスの拡散を阻止するため、業務を停止するよう企業に求めているにも関わらず、部品や製品の製造業務を続けています。

中国の大手通信会社であるHuawei Technologies Co Ltdは・・・  消費者向けデバイスやキャリア機器を含む商品の生産を再開し、正常に稼働していると述べました。

党は一部の都市および州ですべての業務を停止するよう求めているにもかかわらず、同社は 特定の重要な産業の操業を許可する特別な免除規定に基づき、旧正月の休暇後に製造を再開しました。

スポークスマンは、生産の大部分が広東省南部の都市にあると述べました。・・他の企業も、政府が国内の技術サプライチェーンが非常に重要であると考えていることを示すように、場合によっては新年を通して生産を継続しています。

Yangtze Memory Technologies Co Ltd(YMTC)は、ウイルスの発生が始まった武漢を拠点とする国営のフラッシュメモリチップメーカーであり、生産を停止していないことが確認されました。

「現在、YMTCでの生産と運用は正常に整然と進行しています」と、同社の広報担当者は声明で述べています。広報担当者は、従業員が感染事例として確認されていなかったと言い、会社は従業員の安全を確保するために特定の隔離措置と区画を制定したと述べています。

一方、Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corpも、休暇中も生産を続けました。ソーシャルメディアの投稿で、同社は休暇前に作業グループを組織し、従業員の安全を守り、政府の規制を順守しつつ、工場が稼働し続けることができるようにすると述べていました。

TSMC[Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co]スポークスウーマンであるNina Kao氏はロイターに、同社は現在中国で「部分的な運用を維持」しており、2月10日にフル稼働を再開する予定であると語りました。

ディスプレイパネルとテレビのメーカーであるTCL Corpは、・・・LCDスクリーン用のChina Star Optoelectronics Technology Unit(CSOT)の工場ラインは「一年中ノンストップで稼働している」が、武漢工場に関しては、材料供給の遅れが予想されると述べました。

中国の別のディスプレイメーカーであるBOE Technology Group Co Ltdは、国営メディアのGlobal Timesに、武漢の工場の1つがコロナウイルスの影響により、供給不足に直面したと語りました。

グローバルメモリセクターを追跡する調査会社TrendForceは、武漢に近い都市にあるChangxin Memory Technologies Co Ltd(CXMT)と、武漢にある別のメモリ会社であるXinxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltdの工場が操業を続けていると報告しました。
両社は、電子メールによるコメントの要請にすぐには応答しませんでした。

中国に工場がある海外の部品メーカーも生産を続けています。

サムスン電子は・・・「コロナウイルスの発生にもかかわらず西安のチップ工場で生産の混乱は見られなかった」と、この問題に詳しい2人がロイターに語りました。サムスン電子の担当者は、旧正月休暇中に生産が停止しなかったと発言して、工場が通常どおり稼働していることを認めました。

サムスンディスプレイ、SKハイニックス、LGディスプレイの代表者も、中国の工場をいつものように運営していると述べました。

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