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February 28, 2020

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Lingang leads way getting back to business

AS production in most Shanghai factories picks up and workers return, Shanghai Daily visited the Lingang New Area in China’s commercial center, where Tesla has its local factory.

The car maker’s gigafactory has resumed production of its Model 3 vehicles and is operating at full capacity.

The Shanghai Lingang Economic Development (Group) Co, the zone’s developer, has about 1,100 foreign-funded companies in its various estates around the city, along with a couple of thousand Chinese firms.

In the Lingang New Area alone, every company with annual production worth more than 100 million yuan (US$14 million) is back to work.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 percent of enterprises in the city had resumed work along with 93 percent of the regional headquarters of multinationals.

“On February 10, we resumed work as usual. On the first day, we had about 50 percent of workers back, and now after two weeks, we have about 75 percent,” said Richard Cheung, managing director of Plansee Shanghai High Performance Material.

The Austrian-headquartered group opened its Shanghai production site at Lingang in 2013, and has suppliers across the country and customers across the world.

At its Shanghai plant, company shuttles parked outside the gate as workers had their temperatures taken by guards in protective suits, changing their own masks to new ones provided by the company before starting work.

The company’s canteen provides lunch boxes rather than catering, and only two workers eat at each six-person table, with a board between them. Workers are also advised to smoke less, and to keep a distance from each other in the outdoor smoking areas.

Those returning from hard-hit areas are required to be quarantined for 14 days and masks are required in all areas and at all times in the plant.

All the measures taken by Plansee and other companies are to ensure a balance between the health of workers and safe production.

“I never had a thought to cancel or delay much of my arrival to Shanghai,” said Christian Loeffler, a German project manager at Plansee originally set to start his new contract and arrive in Shanghai on February 1.

His plans were disrupted as European airlines started canceling flights to China, but he finally arrived on February 10.

“You need to think rationally about what is happening,” he said. “For me, it’s not super critical in mind. It’s an unknown virus and there is no vaccination, but I feel perfectly safe here in Shanghai.”

“There are lots of procedures which help to kill the virus in small communities. And my company helps to eliminate some of the issues, such as arranging pickups so that we don’t have to use the Metro.”

His colleague in R&D, development engineer Hennrik Schmidt, stayed in China as news of the epidemic broke. He never considered leaving even as he realized it was more serious than he first heard.

“Of course I have prepared for it. I actually feel quite secure if I take care, and I have my job here,” he said.

“It has been very well-managed in the company. Of course, it is different. Right now, there are no business trips, and I handle a lot of communications digitally. Some projects got a bit delayed because of suppliers. But this is just a small delay, nothing serious.”

Shanghai’s governments and residents have been praised for handling the epidemic quickly and efficiently. As of midday Wednesday, there had been 336 confirmed cases, 272 recoveries and 2,26 suspected ongoing cases, in a city of more than 24 million.

As people began to return to work from February 10, relevant departments took note of the challenges confronting companies early on and provided support, particularly for buying protective equipment and helping with supply chains.

Companies have also been creative in solving problems and helping each other, such as suggesting workers return earlier and hiring temporary staff to fill in for those not yet back.

For instance, many restaurants which were closed and others that had few customers contracted some of their staff to companies which were faced an increasing demand for food deliveries.

In the Lingang area, an epidemic prevention liaison system set up in 2003 during the SARS outbreak was quickly adopted, while many started work on Chinese New Year’s Day to prepare for possible scenarios.

“We set up a virus-prevention work group and put the liaison system into effect immediately to ensure transparent information to companies and help with their needs as much as possible,” said Lu Chun, innovation and industrial development office director with the Lingang group.

“Many companies related to fighting the virus, such as thermometer producers, also started their contributions to the city early on.”

Cheung, Plansee’s managing director, cited buying masks and delays in some supplies from virus-hit areas as among the biggest challenges. But he remains positive about quick and safe recovery.

“We are very confident that the novel coronavirus can be handled by the government,” he said.

“We are also confident that after the virus, the economy will come back to normal in a couple of months. The challenge is our suppliers and we are discussing with them, some in Hubei Province, who can’t say when they can get back to work.”

“But in the end, we will win.”


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