First identified in early December 2019, a novel strain of coronavirus, informally named Wuhan Coronavirus (now formally named COVID-19 by World Health Organization) after the area it was first found, has attracted the attention of the world. As of February 10, 2020, more than one thousand people have died, and tens of thousands of others have been infected. As fears continue to mount, disruptions to trade and travel are being felt around the world, and a rising volume of misinformation about the outbreak has resulted in the World Health Organization declaring an “infodemic”.
On today’s Lawyer 2 Lawyer, host Craig Williams is joined by attorney Grace Yang who works out of Harris Bricken’s Seattle and Beijing offices, as they discuss this new coronavirus outbreak. Craig and Grace look at the real picture of what’s happening, the overall impact on travel and business, and China’s new rules for dealing with the coronavirus.
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Lawyer 2 Lawyer: Law News and Legal Topics
Inside the Coronavirus Outbreak
Grace Yang: It seems to me this is worse than the 2003 SARS outbreak. Back then, the outbreak lead to business and school closures for a very long time and so this right now, I mean like we talked about, there is just no end in sight.
Intro Welcome to the award-winning podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer, with J. Craig Williams, bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
- Craig Williams: Welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I am Craig Williams coming to you from a sunny Southern California.
I write a legal blog named May It Please the Court. I have two books out titled ‘How to Get Sued’ and ‘The Sled’.
Well, before we introduce today’s topic, we would like to take this time to thank our sponsor Blue J Legal.
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Well, it was first identified in early of December 2019, a novel strain of Coronavirus now renamed by the World Health Organization as COVID-19 and it’s comes from Wuhan, where it was first found and it’s attracted the attention of the world. As of February 10, 2020, more than a thousand people have died, tens of thousands of others have been infected.
Fears continue to mount, disruptions to trade and travel are being felt around the world and there’s a rising volume of misinformation about the outbreak, that’s resulted in the World Health Organization also declaring an “infodemic”.
Well today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we are going to discuss this new Coronavirus COVID-19 Outbreak. We are going to take a look at the real picture of what’s happening, the overall impact on travel and business and China’s new rules for dealing with that virus.
To help us explore this topic we have Attorney Grace Yang, who works out of Harris Bricken’s Seattle and Beijing offices. Grace is Harris Bricken’s lead attorney on China Labor and Employment Law Matters and she is the author of a book, ‘The China Employment Law Guide’. Her international background gives her a deep understanding of both American and Chinese cultures as well as their legal systems. She also writes for the China Law Blog, which can be found at chinalawblog.com.
Welcome to the show, Grace.
Grace Yang: Thank you Craig and thank you for having me here.
- Craig Williams: We are very glad to have you. Can you give us a little bit of the background behind the COVID-19 Outbreak, where it started, how it started? There is been a lot of information that I read about it and some of it is conflicting.
Grace Yang: Yeah. So, I mean apparently the outbreak started from Wuhan. You may have seen the seafood and meat market that was closed down, where the first cases were discovered.
And since then, there has been well a lot of – and like you said, a lot of misinformation because the Chinese Government, well their sort of first initial action was to — the action was to well cover up the whole picture, and then the spread was really fast, and the Chinese Government has been doing its best to control and prevent the epidemic from getting even worse.
But it’s been really tough.
- Craig Williams: From seeing the construction of a hospital in 10 days. It seems like China is just throwing all of its resources against this?
Grace Yang: Yes, it has. Well, you know China is like a — like to tell other people, I mean China is a complex country. It’s incredible that it can build a hospital in 10 days, but it’s also the control that Beijing is trying to strengthen, is trying to basically control how the information flows and controls what other people see is also incredible. I mean not probably — I mean not in a good way.
I personally think that it could put even more efforts into caring about its people rather than just focusing on enhancing its control.
- Craig Williams: Well there have also been some videos where we have seen some pretty rough handling of Chinese citizens, where they have been forcibly taken from their homes and quarantined. There have been stories about caregivers being quarantined and then the person that was receiving the care dying, that’s so different than we would see, at least we would like to think we would seeing from in between the cultures. Can you help us understand the difference in the cultures that explain that?
Grace Yang: The — well people –
- Craig Williams: No, I was just going to say that it’s hard for I think Americans to understand the kind of forcible behavior that we are seeing on television.
Grace Yang: I think it has less to do with culture differences but more to do with how the Chinese Government is, like I said, trying to control its people and control how the — how others view it. It is heartbreaking to see that basically Chinese people or ordinary people are not being treated as people.
So it’s shocking to — I am from China originally, but when I hear of stories like the one that you were just saying that, that pains me too to even — I can’t even imagine the pain and how scared and frustrated and angry the Chinese people have been, especially those who are forced to — especially those who are in Wuhan province, where they are hit the hardest.
- Craig Williams: Within China, what kind of information are the people getting about this outbreak?
Grace Yang: The lack of accurate information. They are not — well, like before there is no free press, there is no free flow of accurate information. They are getting the pictures that are basically painted by Beijing, the Central Government there and they know that because of well, today’s world is different than before. I mean there is more people have access to the Internet and then, and people with — especially people with VPNs, they can sort of see what’s out there, what’s beyond the Great Wall and that changes things.
- Craig Williams: Is China losing its control because of citizens’ access to the Internet?
Grace Yang: In a way yes, and that is why they had been focusing their efforts and resources into strengthening its control. So it’s not going to back down just because people can see what’s outside of China.
- Craig Williams: What’s the danger to the rest of the world given that there is official misinformation coming from China? I mean do we really know what’s happening in China or is it being kept from us?
Grace Yang: I think we sort of know, there are still free — there is free press outside of China and granted, it’s hard to gain truthful and accurate information from China, but there are honest reporters that are writing stories about what’s going on in China and some of them are in China and they are telling the rest of the world exactly what is going on. That is really helpful.
- Craig Williams: There have been circumstances that I’ve read about in various articles on the Internet that say that certain bloggers have put out videos and people have put up videos and then their family members say they have gone missing and they haven’t been heard from. Is that actually what’s going on? If there is an independent blogger who is putting out what is presumably accurate information, is the Chinese Government then seizing that journalist or citizen journalists and taking that information away from us?
Grace Yang: Yes. Unfortunately that has been the case and not just independent bloggers, I mean even lawyers who are fighting for human rights in China, they have gone missing or are they have been threatened, their family members are threatened so that’s been going on for –
- Craig Williams: You have spent part of your time in Beijing, is this a danger to you to even be on this podcast?
Grace Yang: I get concerned sometimes. I have been spending, I mean fortunately for me, I mean thankfully I have been spending more time, the majority of my time in Seattle, so but I have got extended family in China. So I am scared for them and my family tells me to be careful about what I say on platform like this and on WeChat because we get monitored for everything on there.
- Craig Williams: Well we certainly don’t want to put you in any danger and any position where you are saying something that’s inappropriate. So please take care.
Grace Yang: Yeah, thank you.
- Craig Williams: And if I am asking a question feel free not to answer it if it would impact your safety. So give us a little bit of prospective on the labor market, your specialty and how this Coronavirus COVID-19 has been impacting businesses and the travel industry?
Grace Yang: It has had a huge impact on businesses and even I mean companies doing business in the world in or with China as well. The travel industry has also been hit very hard. I mean people – I mean given the travel restrictions, the travel that’s to and from mainland China and the restrictions on traveling within China and imagine there are so many migrant workers working in China there.
I mean there must be so many people that are not getting to where they should be working now assuming that it’s okay to be back to work in their locales in China.
- Craig Williams: We even heard of a situation where there was a cruise ship that can’t find a place to dock because the countries are concerned that there is Coronavirus on board and then there is another cruise ship that’s been forcibly detained and quarantined in a port in Japan.
This has affected every aspect of the travel industry, hasn’t it?
Grace Yang: Yes, I can imagine what the people on the ships are going through and their family members, yeah, it’s really rough.
- Craig Williams: Why advice would you give travelers to China or people that are supposed to travel, just stay away for the time being?
Grace Yang: I would say yes, many companies have adopted policies that I mean not necessarily banning travel to China, but really clearing with the managers of the companies prior to any travel to China to really limit the amount of travel, unless it’s truly necessary do not go to China.
- Craig Williams: What impact is it having on the products that are being made in China and the goods and materials that are shipped to and from that make those products? Are those at a standstill as well or are the ships being loaded at the docks still?
Grace Yang: Everything is delayed. If something is – if an order is placed even before the Chinese New Year, I don’t think the chances are the buyers, the form buyers are now getting them, even with the factories sort of starting to open after the government mandated time off period. I mean the workers, most of the workers are not at the factories and so I’d say the factories are not fulfilling their orders and the buyers are not getting their products, not anytime soon.
- Craig Williams: Thank you Grace. Before we move on to our next segment, we are going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor.
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- Craig Williams: And welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer. I’m Craig Williams and with us today is Attorney Grace Yang, who works out of Harris Bricken’s Seattle and Beijing offices. We have been discussing the impact of the Coronavirus, now known as COVID-19.
Grace, before the break, you were talking about some severe impacts that the people aren’t working, the docks aren’t being utilized and the products aren’t being shipped, materials aren’t coming in and it sounds like this has been going on for a period of time.
What can we expect economically to be the effect of this as — has its ripple effect across the world?
Grace Yang: Well, it has a huge effect on the economic activities in connection, really related to China, even in the smallest way. The thing is it’s not going to change anytime soon.
- Craig Williams: How long can we expect this to last?
Grace Yang: We just – we don’t know when this will end.
- Craig Williams: We have heard estimates from President Trump that China thinks it may be finished as of April. Is that a realistic timeframe or can we expect this to last much longer than that?
Grace Yang: As much as I would like to say it will end even in March or maybe April, we don’t know, now we just don’t know.
- Craig Williams: There have been some reports that the number of reported cases lessened yesterday in China by some 20%. Is that of a valid assessment or do you think that we’re not really getting the true story from China in terms of the number of reported cases or is this the type of thing that the World Health Organization and other governments just simply mandate the truth?
Grace Yang: I would not necessarily trust the information that we are getting from the Chinese Government.
- Craig Williams: How do we go about protecting ourselves from this? I mean I don’t want to be a fear monger in the sense that we all understand what an outbreak is and the possible effects of it. I mean we have had a couple of movies about that. What do we really expect? What’s the current estimate about the effect of the virus itself on people? Had there been estimates of the expected number of deaths and infections?
Grace Yang: I think, well, some measure such as having the employees work from home and just trying to avoid human, any sort of close contact as much as possible that would help. I’m not aware of any estimates.
- Craig Williams: Right, so it’s all up in the air at this point. Well, we have something to compare it to. We have the 2003 SARS outbreak where some 774 people died. But it’s so far, this looks like it’s going to be a little bit worse. Do you have an insight on that?
Grace Yang: It seems to me this is worse than the 2003 SARS outbreak. Back then, the outbreak led to business and school closures for very long time and so this right now, I mean like we talked about, there is just no end in sight.
- Craig Williams: How long were businesses closed from the SARS outbreak?
Grace Yang: It was a long time ago, but I remember being well staying at home and doing nothing and not going to school for very long time back then.
- Craig Williams: And that was because of the clampdown that was put in place in China by the government?
Grace Yang: Yeah.
- Craig Williams: How does this affect the employees in China in terms of their pay or if they’re not working, are they getting paid?
Grace Yang: It sort of depends on where the employees are and what the local employment law say. Generally speaking, they should be paid at least while even with the business closure within a wage payment cycle, the employee should be provided with whatever the standard that is provided in their standard rate, in their employment contract.
I have heard stories and cases about employers not providing any pay to the employee and that does not sound right to me.
- Craig Williams: So for employees that are working at home, they can expect to be paid, is that right?
Grace Yang: Well yes, the short answer is yes. They are basically doing their normal work, the only difference is that they are doing at home, then they should be provided with their normal pay.
And the reason why I was a little hesitant was because before the work resumption, for example in Shanghai before the work resumption while this past Monday, February 10, if the employee had worked back then, it would count as overtime so they would get not just their normal pay but overtime pay or comp time in the work overtime pay.
- Craig Williams: Right that makes sense. What about for other countries that rely on goods being shipped from China? Obviously, they are being delayed, what kind of remedies exist for that situation?
Grace Yang: I am afraid the Chinese manufacturers are – start, well they have already started arguing force majeure, so they — the kind of remedy that is available to the foreign buyers that rely on Chinese goods are kind of limited. I mean they could try to negotiate to amend the agreement with the Chinese supplier but the chances are the Chinese suppliers going to say, well they just don’t know, there is so much uncertainty, they don’t know when they will be back, when they will be up and running.
- Craig Williams: Right. So has China adopted new employment rules for dealing with this or what kind of things are they putting in place to try and stop this situation?
Grace Yang: Yeah, ever since the outbreak, China has been pretty much coming out with new employment rules every day and the locales, they are rushing out new rules to deal with the epidemic as well.
It’s kind of hard. I mean given the local differences and how many rules that have come out since then, it’s a little bit hard to even give a summary but the focus is on protection of the employees and reducing the burden on the employers to the extent possible and not putting the employees’ health and life in danger by having them resume work.
- Craig Williams: In some situations, it’s not even possible for some of the employees to work because there aren’t any supplies. What happens in those situations?
Grace Yang: Generally speaking, the employers are encouraged or expected to sort of negotiate with the employee to come to understanding about possibly reducing work hours for reduced pay were be put on standby for an amended salary to deal with this situation but it’s difficult for everyone. I mean the employees don’t want to be punished for the outbreak and neither do the employers and the government’s position on this is sort of try to — the parties should negotiate and come to a mutual understanding of these issues and to the extent possible.
- Craig Williams: It sounds to me like everybody suffers.
Grace Yang: Right.
- Craig Williams: And what happens to the workers in China without any pay?
Grace Yang: They may be able to — if they are laid off where – I mean they may be able to collect unemployment benefits and some locales have announced that they will try and make this application process as easy as possible and the employee supposedly they can do everything online without having to go, actually go to the labor, local labor bureau to get this taken care of. How in reality that works we don’t know because we have seen firsthand how not user-friendly the Chinese government websites can be.
- Craig Williams: Right. Well, we have talked about the location of this in Wuhan, is this area just around Wuhan where this economic effect is occurring or is it occurring throughout the entire country?
Grace Yang: It is occurring throughout the country, it’s not just Wuhan.
- Craig Williams: How will a government be able to financially handle the kind of impact that it’s going to take to keep its workers with money they pay for food and shelter and basic necessities and yet continue to run? That seems like an impossible task.
Grace Yang: This we will see and — I mean my guess is that they will try to finance it, and they — I mean I have heard that the prices for goods have now gone up significantly because of the outbreak. But the problem is that there are just not enough medical supplies, not enough medical personnel and facilities. I guess we will see how it all works out.
- Craig Williams: Yes, certainly a lot is up in the air and lot remains to be seen about what’s going to be happening.
Well Grace, it looks like we’ve just about reached the end of our program, so I would like to take the opportunity to invite you to share your final thoughts and your contact information for our listeners to reach out to you.
Grace Yang: Sure. I would say if you are an employer in China just be super careful about any potentially adverse employer decision you might be making today and everything is — pretty much everything is tricky here given the current state.
So think twice before you act and if you have any questions, please feel free to — well, first checkout our blog, China Law Blog and then you can send me email at [email protected].
- Craig Williams: Great. Thank you very much. We would like to thank our guest Attorney Grace Yang of Harris Bricken for joining us today. And for our listeners, if you’d like what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or your favorite podcasting app and you can visit us at legaltalknetwork.com where you can sign up for our newsletter.
I am Craig Williams, thanks for listening. You can join us next time for another great legal topic. When you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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