Q&A with HM Ambassador
- At the moment all emails to the embassy receive a standard auto-response. What is happening to all ongoing work in the embassy? Particularly with the DIT. Are all projects paused? Will communication with partners continue?To what degree are British authorities truly supportive of business in China when Consulate has closed its doors?
How will the scope of services at the Embassy and consulates across China be impacted due to the decision to evacuate Embassy and consulate staff?
A: The initial standard auto-response reflected the fact that the Embassy was dedicated to essential crisis response work. From 17th February, DIT Locally Engaged staff will begin working remotely. This will allow DIT to resume work on priority commercial support for British businesses. If you are having trouble getting through to a particular team or individual, we will be providing on the standard auto-response a generic email address. We will monitor this and send it on to the right person. Please make clear in your email subject line whom you are trying to contact. In terms of outward facing activity, we have cancelled or postponed everything until the end of February, but expect disruption to continue significantly beyond that.
- Britain is only the second country after the United States to issue a recommendation for their nationals to leave China if they can. Others have advised citizens to leave from specific areas. Should the advice from the British government be applied uniformly across the country?
A: Our travel advice is for the whole of mainland China. In coming to that decision, we didn’t base it just on the health threat to individuals but also looked at the increasing travel restrictions within China, whether healthcare systems would remain accessible and effective, and the reduction in international flight options.
- If British nationals that have remained in China do decide to return to the UK, what is the government’s position and steps to manage a 14-day quarantine period? Will they need to go to a specific facility like those who’ve left Wuhan, or will it be home / hotel based?Those evacuated from Wuhan have been put in facilities as part of a 14-day quarantine period. Will those leaving China on commercial flights to the UK also be required to go to these facilities?
Are there any restrictions on Chinese citizens or those living in China travelling to the UK?
A: At the moment, no, it is not a formal requirement for people arriving in the UK from China to go into quarantine. But they should self-monitor for at least 14 days – and if they develop any symptoms (such as cough, fever, shortness of breath), they should stay away from others (as they would if they had the flu) and call NHS 111 for further advice. This guidance is from the Chief Medical Officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, and applies to people returning to the UK from Mainland China (not Wuhan/Hubei), Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia.
- Other countries are blocking arrivals from China. Will the UK?Does the UK government have any intention to impose restrictions and would those now extend to those travelling from Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan?
Will UK close border or set restriction to students from Hubei?
Will UK borders remain open to flights to and from China?
A: There are no plans to do so at present.
- I have decided to remain in China. What UK consular support will I have access to if I run into issues?
A: Since our 31 January decision to withdraw dependents and non-essential staff from the British Embassy and Consulates, essential staff needed to continue critical work, including consular assistance have remained. British Consulates-General in Shanghai and Guangzhou continue to provide essential travel documentary services to British nationals wishing to leave China (but no other consular assistance). The ability of the Embassy and Consulates to provide face-to-face assistance to British nationals from within China is currently limited, and would be even more limited in the event that the situation deteriorates further. British nationals in China who need consular support should call +86 (0)10 8529 6600 or the FCO in London on +44 (0) 207 008 1500.
- The longer it takes for the coronavirus to be brought under control will cause significant financial risk to import / exporters and to small businesses. Are there any steps being taken by the British government to provide support for these important parts of the British ecosystem?Are there any resources SMEs can use to help support themselves through the crisis?
A: We do not yet have any specific support in place. HMTC Richard Burn is in the UK leading on this speaking to UK Export Finance and others on how we can support UK businesses in these exceptional circumstances. Feedback from you on what the key pressure points are and how support could be best applied and prioritised would be valuable for these discussions in London. DIT teams in China will be contacting as many UK companies as possible. A similar process is underway in the UK. But also feel free to send your thoughts in directly to the DIT team.
- The Chinese government have announced new preferential loan policies for domestic companies affected by the coronavirus. This could potentially put British businesses in China at a disadvantage. Is the UK government considering active measures to provide a safety net for British businesses highly affected by the crisis?
We’ve seen these measures. We will seek clarification on whether these support measures are available to Chinese-registered businesses (e.g. including Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprises or Joint Ventures). We will share any additional information we receive – and would be interested in your feedback on how these policies are being implemented on the ground.
- What major conferences will be cancelled? Any delay to Beijing Auto show in April?
A: The British Chamber has published a list of the major conferences in China and elsewhere that it knows have been postponed or cancelled because of the virus. It is not definitive. You should check directly with conference organisers.
- The UK education sector is heavily dependent on inbound Chinese students. What is being done to reassure students and make sure that their first experience of UK education is supportive, positive and tolerant?How the outbreak would affect British-Sino Education cooperation?
A: Ensuring the safety and welfare of their students and staff is a top priority for UK universities, who are monitoring the situation closely. We want Chinese students to continue to have positive experiences in the UK that build lasting relationships. UK institutions are closely monitoring the sentiments and reactions of all students on campus and we are engaging accordingly, including by encouraging the use of Chinese social media such as WeChat to reach Chinese students on their own platforms. The British Council is in regular contact with organisations and institutions to update them on the situation and has set a dedicated communications channel with agents and students to support any individual enquiries.
- At the start of February, the UK government announced it was donating £20m to support research into a new inoculation via the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. What other measures is the UK Government taking to support the Chinese and global response to Covid-19?
A: The UK government has donated over £50 million in support of tackling the epidemic. This includes the Department of Health and Social Care providing £20m to fund vaccine research; the UK’s Wellcome Trust (in partnership with the Department for International Development) providing £10m to accelerate research and support for global efforts; and UK Research and Innovation’s Medical Research Council allocating £20m for an initiative inviting researchers to submit proposals for projects to develop vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics or address the epidemiology, spread or underpinning knowledge of novel coronavirus. The UK has also responded to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Flash Appeal to stop the spread of the disease, providing £5 million to support developing countries most at risk of coronavirus to quickly identify cases and care for patients.
- British businesses have a long history in China. What else can British businesses best help China in its response? Has the Chinese government formally requested any UK support (medical supplies, expertise) and/or has HMG formally offered?Are there any UK orgs/firms positioned to offer significant expertise or solutions to china for COVID-19 epidemic?
A: DIT China has set up a small team to work with the British Chamber, CBI, CBBC and UK regional governments to support those British companies wishing to donate medical supplies and expertise to China. You can contact the team via James.McGuire@fco.gov.uk
- Can you please share a Chinese policy update on COVID-19 every 3 days or at least every week please?
A: We will update our main travel advice with any particularly significant new policies that we think will affect British Nationals. But we aren’t able to track all the Chinese central, provincial, municipal and sub-municipal policies that have been announced or advise on how they are being implemented on the ground. If you are finding that particular policies and restrictions are causing significant damage to your business, please let DIT China know.
- Is the advice to leave China in line with WHO recommendations? If not do we base it on different factors?
A: The travel advice is based in part on the assessment made by the UK Chief Medical Officer of the threat posed by the virus. But it also takes into account other factors including access and efficacy of healthcare, restrictions on travel within China and the availability of international flights. Our travel advice is kept under constant review.
- Does the UK government intend to organize any additional evacuation flights from China? For Wuhan? For citizens in other cities?If British citizens remain in China and the situation get worse, would the UK government look to evacuate those that remain given the significant reduction in flights out of China and imposition of bans on travellers from China?
In the event of an evacuation will UK permanent resident holders be given assistance to get back home to UK as an EU national?
A: No. We are in touch with British Nationals still in Hubei separately. There are commercial flight options out of all parts of China except Hubei. Our advice is that British Nationals should leave. There is no ban on entry to the UK for travellers from China.
- How many UK citizens have been evacuated so far? How many British citizens remain in China?
A: We have helped around 200 British Nationals and dependants leave Hubei. It is difficult to know exactly how many British Nationals remain in China as we do not know how many short-term visitors there are here and how many who would ordinarily be resident have chosen to leave or not return. We estimate a maximum of 20 000 British Nationals remain in China.
- My passport is currently in with the Chinese authorities for visa renewal or must be submitted in the coming weeks / months. What if there is ultimately a need to leave at short notice without the passport?
A: If you would like to leave China and have a problem with your documents, please ring the consular assistance teams, which are operating 24/7 by calling the British Embassy in Beijing on +86 (0) 10 8529 6600 or the FCO in London on 0207 008 1500, and selecting the option for consular services.
- Is there an opt-in system for British citizens and families to register their contact info, for Beijing and elsewhere in China?
A: No. But if you have specific concerns please call the numbers above.
- How transparent and engaged has engagement been between the UK and PRC counterparts on this matter?
A: There have been regular contacts between the UK and China at the highest levels. This continues. This does, of course, remain a fast moving situation. As the WHO said last week, we should interpret data with “extreme caution” and the disease could go “in any direction”.
- Is the UK sending medical teams into China to work with Chinese counterparts on the response?
- Will the BA & Virgin flight cancellations have an ongoing impact on relations with China?
A: We do not expect so. More than 100 airlines have now suspended services to and from China.
- If my company decides not to donate or offer our products for free, is it possible that we may face some kind of repercussions from the government later on?Are you pressured by the Chinese government to urge the UK business to donate to relief effort? Negative impact if no donation?
A: We have received no pressure from the Chinese government to urge UK businesses to donate.
- Can you help university partnerships get better/faster access to our British partners’ virtual learning environments (VLEs)?
A: The British Council is aware that most TNE partnerships are already exploring how they could deliver online through their various platforms. If any Chinese institutions have specific requests, please email them (firstname.lastname@example.org) and they can help them to link up with the UK partners.
- Can ships and containers that have originated in China or stopped in China travel to the UK and unload goods into the UK? Are there restrictions on cargo or crew?If we are exporting products and material from China to the UK is there any quarantine or additional time added to delivery?
A: We are not aware of broad trade restrictions on Chinese goods as a result of the virus, in the UK or elsewhere. There are isolated reports of trade restrictions in third countries on some Chinese agricultural products that we are currently investigation. The UK has no restrictions on Chinese ships entering UK ports. Crew and other travellers would be subject to the usual advice on self-isolation if they show symptoms.
In practice, many delays to shipping products to/from China are likely to be due to logistics problems inside China related to movement restrictions, prioritisation of medical supplies and staff unavailability rather than restrictions at the border. The situation is more complex for agricultural products because of a lack of refrigerated container space at Chinese ports as previous shipments have been held there.
We are keeping all of this under review. We hugely welcome intelligence from business on the problems they are facing and any new measures they see (official or locally implemented).
- Any delay to implement vehicle emission standard China 6 and the limit of PN 6×10^11?
A: We are not aware of any delay but will follow up.