Chinese travel agents have been told to stop selling any tours or packages – both domestic and international – according to the agency partners of UK-based China specialist representation agency, China Travel Outbound.
The Brighton-based agency said it has been informed by its Chinese travel agency partners that the Chinese Culture and Tourism Authority has released an official document instructing all travel agencies to stop selling any kind of domestic holiday product and cancel all departures in light of the coronavirus crisis.
For international trips Chinese travel agents have been advised to use their judgement and decide whether to let their client go if they are travelling in the next few days, taking into consideration the time needed to coordinate with overseas suppliers.
Agents have been told to use their discretion if a client insists on travelling abroad and there is no suspicion of them having the virus.
But authorities have reportedly told agents that for international departures after January 27 all trips must be cancelled and the travel agent is responsible for fully refunding the cost to the consumer.
As well as being a blow to Chinese travel agents, the move will be a major concern for many UK-based tourism businesses who rely heavily on Chinese visitors.
Many Chinese travellers are already in the UK for the Lunar New Year, which is one of the busiest times of year for Chinese people to travel.
But with a growing number of UK hotels and tourism businesses now relying on Chinese visitors, particularly in London, Edinburgh, York, Oxford and Cambridge, any longterm restrictions could be very damaging.
China Travel Outbound said it is monitoring the situation closely and receiving regular updates from its team in China.
The death toll in China from the coronavirus outbreak has climbed to 56, local media reported on Sunday. China’s National Health Commission announced 688 new confirmed cases, 1,309 new suspected cases and 15 deaths from the disease (13 in Hubei, one in Shanghai and one in Henan) in the past 24 hours.
As the coronavirus claims more victims, Beijing’s Forbidden City palace complex, Shanghai’s Disney Resort and other tourist attractions have been shut down, while hotels and airlines are waiving cancellation fees.
Trip.com is also waiving cancellation fees on hotels, car rentals and attraction tickets in Wuhan.
Share prices for China’s three major airlines – China Southern, China Eastern and China Air – all took a dive when Chinese authorities said they should refund passengers for cancelled flights.
Major hotel chains, including IHG and Hyatt, are waiving cancellation fees across most of their China hotels.
Vietnam and Singapore are the latest countries to confirm new cases of the still little known coronavirus strain. Cases have already been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea and Japan.
In the UK, 14 people who have been in Wuhan within the last fortnight have been tested. Five have been given the all clear and the other nine are still waiting for their results.
Public Health England is advising anyone who has been to Wuhan in the last 14 days to call NHS 111.
Meanwhile UK-based operators and agents who take British travellers to China are monitoring the situation closely.
Asia specialist Wendy Wu said: “We are aware of the coronavirus that is currently in the news and advise that all of our tours continue to run as normal and clients’ sightseeing is unaffected.
“The travel advice to China is to avoid all but essential travel to Wuhan. We can confirm none of our tours operate sightseeing to this city and any tours which transited through Wuhan Airport have been rerouted. Travel to all other areas in China remains unaffected.
“Our passengers’ health and wellbeing is always our top priority and we will continue to closely monitor this situation.”
In an unprecedented move, China has extended restrictions to nine more cities beyond Wuhan, which is on lockdown, effectively cutting off 20 million residents from public transport and public entertainment.
The new coronavirus strain first originated in the city of Wuhan just before the New Year.
All flights, subway, bus and train services have been suspended in Wuhan and similar measures will be enforced in the cities of Huanggang and Ezhou from Friday. All the cities are located in Hubei province.
Entertainment centres and theatres were also ordered to close for the foreseeable future.
In addition all Wuhan residents must wear face masks in public. Travel in and out by private car is still permitted.
“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, told The Associated Press.
“It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”
In Beijing, all ‘major events’ are suspended indefinitely, which includes those for the Chinese New Year holidays, and The Forbidden City is closed.
In Hong Kong an international carnival and annual football tournament have been cancelled, along with the traditional Lunar New Year celebrations in Macau.