Coronavirus: Immediate and Long-term Impacts on Travel, Public Health, and the Economy

In numbers, the impact of coronavirus is staggering. The number of infected individuals is 17,000 and rising daily. The death toll, which has surpassed 360, is climbing simultaneously. The dangerous pathogen has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a public health emergency. As regulations grow and the global economy begins to react, the Coronavirus is shaping up to be a complicated issue for public health, as well as economics, politics and culture.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness with flu-like symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening. The virus can be deadly. The new coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, belongs to the same family as SARS and MERS. As with SARS and MERS, the virus is believed to have sickened humans through animal contact. However, cases of human-to-human transmission are being reported, too. Incidences of coronavirus have already surpassed the number of people sickened by SARS. The two illnesses are closely related.  

Early reports indicate that the first signs of the virus originated in early December 2019 in China. The first confirmed case outside of China was reported on January 13, 2020. Since then, the speed of the global spread of the virus has been alarming. The World Health Organization announced on February 3, 2020 that confirmed cases have been reported in 24 countries.

Global Impacts on Travel

As the virus continues to spread, countries worldwide are taking precautions to contain the disease in the form of travel restrictions and mandatory health screenings. Many major airlines are temporarily ceasing flights into China and the country’s Special Administrative Regions (such as Hong Kong and Macau), and many countries are evacuating their citizens from Wuhan and Hubei Province.

Individually, over 20 countries worldwide have developed response plans to the outbreak. This includes:


Twenty airports are now screening passengers arriving from Wuhan for signs of the virus. The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4 travel warning, which bans all non-essential travel to China. On January 23, 2020, all non-emergency U.S. citizens and their accompanying family members were instructed to leave Wuhan. A travel ban has been implemented for some foreign nationals returning to the United States from China. Returning residents may be subject to a 14-day mandatory federal quarantine.


All non-essential travel to China is banned. Returning residents are being placed under a mandatory two-week quarantine.


All non-essential travel to China is banned. The U.K. is evacuating all residents from the affected areas.


Lufthansa, a major airline, has stopped all flights to China. Non-essential travel to China is banned.


A travel warning has been issued for China and all residents must leave the country. Non-essential travel to China is banned. India is temporarily suspended as an E-visa facility for Chinese residents and travelers arriving in or traveling through the country.


Air travel to and from China is banned until further notice. The country has declared a state of emergency due to coronavirus.

Hong Kong

Ten out of 13 border crossings with China have been suspended. Many border transportation operations, including high-speed rail services to mainland China and cross-border ferries, have been halted until further notice.


Railway service between Russia and China has been reduced. Trains will only operate between Moscow and Beijing until further notice. The government may deport incoming foreigners who test positive for coronavirus. Russia has also closed its easternmost border with China.


The city of Wuhan, which has a population of 11 million, has been in full lockdown mode for 12 days. All forms public transportation, including ferries, buses, trains, and air travel, have been stopped. Entries and exits are banned for all cities in Hubei Province with reported cases of the disease.

While countries worldwide are feeling the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, China is the hardest hit. Chinese passport holders and individuals with a recent travel history in the country (typically in the past 14 days) face additional scrutiny and entry restrictions upon arrival in other locations. Even if a Chinese national hasn’t been to China in years, for instance, he/she may be denied entry or face lengthy delays when visiting another country. Various immigrant applications may be subject to additional scrutiny and processing delays as well.

Travel warnings and alerts are likely to continue to surface, depending on the course the outbreak takes. Officials caution that alerts and advisories may be issued with little or no warning. Daily, worldwide travel bans are impacting many business travelers. Government closures and staff shortages are also causing delays in obtaining immigration or travel authorization. However, longer-term impacts may be felt too, explains Brendan Coggan, VP of Global Immigration at Pearl Immigration. Coggan points out that, even in the absence of company-imposed and government-mandated travel bans and restrictions, some employees are voluntarily refraining from spending time in China on their own accord. “We have seen instances where individuals originally planning to visit China now or in the next few months are postponing and even cancelling their engagements,” he says, primarily over fears and uncertainty about the virus’s full impact and longevity. Furthermore, some travelers are opting to work in China alone, when previously they planned to bring dependents. Coggan adds that this issue adds a layer of complexity for employers, as it raises issues of employee loyalty, happiness, and the likelihood of maintaining residency in China.

Business and Economic Concerns

Along with public health, coronavirus is negatively impacting business operations around the world.  Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, is one of China’s largest industrial hubs. It is home to many large Chinese and international businesses. PepsiCo, Siemens, and Peugeot Citroen are just a few major corporations based in Wuhan. When the United States imposed a travel ban on visitors from China on January 31, 2020, the Dow fell 2.1%, marking its worst day since August 2019. In China, on February 3, 2020, the first day the stock market reopened after the Lunar New Year, stocks fell by 8% in one of the worst financial days in five years.

Clients big and small are feeling the impacts of the outbreak. Brendan Coggan and Pearl Immigration’s Singapore-based team are in constant contact with businesses who are trying to make productive yet cautious business decisions during this tumultuous time. As China is one of the most active business locations for companies worldwide, Coggan notes that ongoing ripple effects felt by businesses are unparalleled.  

Many businesses in Wuhan and Hubei Province have closed, reports Business Insider. Apple, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, GMC, Ford, and other large companies are evacuating foreign workers, restricting non-essential travel to China for their employees, and reducing or temporarily suspending operations in Hubei. Over a dozen cities in Hubei are on lockdown, which affects over 50 million people. Some of the larger businesses affected include Ikea, McDonald’s, and major automakers Renault and Peugeot Citroen. Many countries, including the United States, are ordering non-essential government employees to evacuate.

While individual corporations are impacted by coronavirus, the illness is affecting entire industries, too. The transportation sector is one of the largest industries impacted by coronavirus. Three of the largest airlines in the United States (American Airlines, Delta, and United) are suspending flights from the U.S. to China. American Airlines has cancelled all flights to China. It will not resume flights until March 27, 2020. United Airlines will suspend flights from February 6, 2020 through March 28, 2020. Delta will cancel flights from February 6, 2020 until April 30, 2020. Lufthansa, a major German airline, has also stopped service to China. DHL, FedEx, and United Parcel Service – three of the largest cargo companies – are suspending services to Wuhan and parts of Hubei Province due to local government orders. Cruise shipping lines are also responding to the outbreak. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has banned cruise ships from entering Chinese ports. The CLIA will ban any traveler or worker who has traveled from or through mainland China in the past 14 days from boarding a cruise ship.

The outbreak coincided with the Lunar New Year, which is historically one of the busiest times of the year in China for travel, shopping, and dining out. Multiple major hotel companies, including Hilton, Marriott International as well as multiple restaurant chains have been financially affected by the lockdown.

The Lunar New Year has been extended due to the outbreak. The extension, Coggan notes, is designed to minimize travel “to, from, and within China” and while many look  forward to a brief reprieve during the New Year, the holiday’s extension might cause a “significant amount of lost productivity,” he warns. He adds that the New Year’s extension may be prolonged to help control the outbreak. The longer the extension continues, the more business suffers. Government functions are reduced during the Lunar New Year celebration, too.

In the past few weeks, coronavirus has had devastating impacts around the world. While the virus has already caused significant healthcare problems, dented the global economy, and complicated travel plans for millions of individuals, its full impacts are not yet known.

How can we Help?   

Pearl’s immigration professionals around the world will provide guidance for affected employers and their affected employees. Pearl Immigration is carefully monitoring this ongoing situation and will continue to post updates on our website as they become available. We encourage you to contact us for assistance.