Firms in China extend holidays, ask staff to work from home as virus spreads

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Big businesses across China are temporarily shutting stores or advising staff to work from home, to guard against the spread of a flu-like virus as the tally of deaths rose to 80, with more than 2,700 people infected.

Companies are also offering longer holidays, cancelling events and imposing quarantine, as they brace for longer-term impact following China’s weekend decision to extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Feb. 2, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak and the capital of the central province of Hubei, is already under virtual lockdown, with severe curbs on movement in place in several other cities.

Hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding said it would shut stores across China from Sunday to Friday, while gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd and social media firm ByteDance told staff to work from home.

Many companies, including e-commerce firm Pinduoduo, bank UBS Group AG and property developer Country Garden also advised employees returning from Wuhan or Hubei province to stay in quarantine at home.

The Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEX) cancelled a Wednesday ceremony for the first trading day of the Lunar New Year, it said on Monday, due to the increasing risk of coronavirus infection.

The decision comes after Hong Kong banned residents of Hubei from entering the territory from Monday.

Businesses in China’s eastern manufacturing hub of Suzhou, home to a big industrial park for pharmaceutical firms and tech companies, will stay shut until at least Feb. 8, to guard against any spread, the city government said in a statement on Sunday.

E-commerce firm Alibaba halted sales of overpriced face masks in its online Taobao marketplace as prices surged. (Additional reporting by Alun John and Clare Jim in Hong Kong; Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez )