Amid fresh wave of Covid-19, workplaces in Beijing navigate infection etiquette

  • China
  • Sunday, 04 Jun 2023

BEIJING, June 4 (The Straits Times/ANN): Over the past two weeks, event organiser Jane Fu has had to cancel or reschedule at least half a dozen work meetings because of Covid-19.

The 36-year-old – along with two out of her four employees and a handful of business contacts – has been caught up in the recent wave of reinfection sweeping through Beijing.

Firms in the Chinese capital are now having to navigate what to do about sick employees, given a lack of official rules.

One in three Beijing firms reported employees falling sick with Covid-19 in May, according to data monitor China Beige Book, the highest among all major Chinese cities.

While this has not been severe enough to disrupt economic performance, experts believe that the current wave will peak in the coming weeks.

During a conference in late May, top respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan said modelling has shown that the current wave is likely to hit a high of about 65 million cases a week by mid-June. In comparison, health officials said visits to fever clinics peaked at 2.867 million daily on Dec 23, but this was not reflective of actual infections as testing could not keep up with infection rates.

“It won’t be gone once and for all,” Dr Zhong said at the conference, acknowledging that the disease cannot be completely eradicated.

The Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Sars-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, has been the top reported virus in the city for five weeks in a row, but did not offer a breakdown of the number of Covid-19 cases.

China has stopped issuing daily updates since it decided in December 2022 to treat the virus as endemic, much like the common flu.

It is an about-turn from the government’s previous zero-Covid policy, which employed mass testing, harsh quarantines and flash lockdowns in a bid to stamp out the virus.

The government’s sudden dismantling of the policy led to the virus ripping through the country, with hospitals and crematoriums overwhelmed.

Six months on, the herd immunity gained from that wave is waning.

Increased travel and the lifting of indoor mask mandates, coupled with the highly infectious XBB variant, have meant that an increasing number of people are falling sick.

With most having returned to working in the office, there have been debates on social media about whether those infected with Covid-19 need to apply for medical leave, given that many have fairly mild symptoms.

While official guidelines say companies should give infected employees paid time off, not every employer enforces it since these are mere guidelines and carry no penalties.

“If I call in sick, I don’t get paid time off, but if I go into the office, my colleagues are going to blame me if they get infected,” wrote a user on social media platform Xiaohongshu.

“I regret even telling them.”

Furthermore, firms are worried about employees taking advantage of such policies for extra time off, said a human resource manager at a major technology firm. She declined to be named because she is not authorised to speak to the media.

For Ms Fu, the event organiser, the recent wave has been disruptive.

“Some companies can work remotely but for us, we have to be at the event to make sure that things are running smoothly, so it was a very stressful period for us since summer is peak season for our business,” she said.

“Fortunately, my staff tested negative quite quickly and could go back to work, but I took a week to shake off the virus even though it was my second time.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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China , Beijing , Covid-19 , Issues , Remergence , Measures


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