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Foreign companies in China's coronavirus outbreak

Akron-based Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises runs a small office in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

Like other businesses in a city whose 11 million population is roughly that of Ohio, Babcock & Wilcox has temporarily closed its 30-person business operation there in accordance with the Chinese government’s decision to extend the Lunar New Year holiday shutdown as the respiratory virus continues its worrisome spread in China and internationally.

“We will continue to follow the guidance of local and national Chinese government officials,” the company said in a statement. The company designs, makes and services coal-fired boilers, pollution-control equipment and more for electric utilities around the world.

Babcock & Wilcox is one of numerous Ohio businesses and organizations monitoring events – and, in some cases, taking specific actions – as a result of the new virus, which has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.The virus might not only affect the overseas offices and factories of Ohio businesses but also disrupt supply chains that Buckeye State businesses depend on. Economic development organization One Columbus said the coronavirus has the potential to disrupt many businesses.

“Wuhan is a notable manufacturing area that supplies much of the world – including the automotive supply chain,” said Kenny McDonald, One Columbus president.

As of Saturday night, just eight people in the United States have tested positive for the infection. The vast majority of confirmed coronavirus infections and deaths have been in China, where the outbreak began in December. U.S health officials have been saying that the flu is more worrisome here now than the coronavirus.

Among the early precautionary steps Ohio companies have taken is stopping air travel to China.

Travelers soon may have little choice now anyway – major airlines have begun halting flights to the country and the U.S. has issued a travel advisory warning people not to go to China to help contain the spread of the virus.

The U.S. on Friday also declared the virus a public health emergency and said it will take steps to bar foreign nationals who recently visited China from entering here, while also quarantining Americans returning from China.

“We have informed our employees that all company travel to Wuhan has been suspended until further notice,” B&W said in a statement. “Additionally, like other businesses in the region, B&W’s 30-person office in Wuhan is currently closed in accordance with the Chinese government’s decision to extend the holiday shutdown. We will continue to follow the guidance of local and national Chinese government officials.”

Dublin-based Cardinal Health said it has a business-continuity and pandemic-contingency plan in place to maintain its supply chain.

“It focuses on actions to protect lives, support customer needs and maintain our supply chain,” the company said of its plan. Cardinal Health said it uses guidelines set by the WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the early precautionary steps that Babcock & Wilson and other Ohio companies have taken is suspending air travel to China. Travelers might have little choice now anyway, however, as more major airlines halt flights to the country. The U.S. has issued a travel advisory that people not to go to China.

A spokesman for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, which has a manufacturing plant in China’s Pulandian district near the Korean Peninsula and other operations in the greater region, said it has “suspended travel to and from China except for business-critical trips.”

J.M. Smucker in Orrville, which has pet-food, people-food and coffee operations, said it also has suspended business travel to China. The company said it does not believe the coronavirus will have a significant impact on its business.

For two big companies based in the Cincinnati area that have operations in China, it has been business as usual.

Procter & Gamble – the consumer-goods giant with roughly 8,000 employees and eight plants spread across mainland China – had received no reports of employees or factories affected by the virus by midday Thursday, according to a spokeswoman.

Still, company officials said they were taking precautions to protect their employees’ health.

P&G is advising employees to avoid travel to areas where the coronavirus has been detected and not to travel if already sick. The company also is requiring employees returning from affected areas to work from home for 14 days from the date of their departure. The virus is believed to have a two-week incubation period.

A spokesman at GE Aviation – which is based in the Cincinnati suburb of Evendale and has about 700 employees in China – said Thursday the outbreak has had “no significant impact” on its employees or business operations, and the company is essentially following the same protocol as P&G.

GE Aviation employees are based mainly in the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai, which are hundreds of miles from Wuhan Province.

Beacon Journal