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21 April 2020 - Jann Raveling

How the coronavirus epidemic is affecting Bremeninvest’s international offices

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Our colleagues report on the impact of the coronavirus in Vietnam, China, Turkey and the USA


Bremen’s economic development agency operates under the brand name Bremeninvest in four countries, where it helps companies to establish a presence in the city. Alongside its three key countries of Turkey, Vietnam and China, Bremen is also a partner in the Northern Germany Innovation Office in Silicon Valley.

We asked the heads of our international offices (German) for their assessment of the local situation and how the coronavirus crisis is impacting on their local economy.

Lu Wang - manager of Bremeninvest-office China in Shanghai
Lu Wang - manager of Bremeninvest-office China in Shanghai

China

The coronavirus epidemic started in China. The country has managed to contain the exponential spread of the virus in Hubei province and is now able to ease some of the restrictions. But there are still some curbs on public life. Wang Lu is head of the Bremeninvest office in Shanghai, around 700 kilometres from Hubei. There are still restrictions in Shanghai too:

“We have to wear face masks at all times in public spaces, most people try to avoid full rooms and places. Your body temperature is taken whenever you get on the metro or enter public spaces such as residential areas, parks and shopping centres. Recently, the number of infected has risen slightly in large urban centres such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou due to an influx of people from other areas.

The economy is of course feeling the effects of the crisis, but things are returning to normal. Restaurants, cafes and fitness studios are partly open again. But cinemas, museums and theatres remain closed. The office building where I work is now accessible via both main entrances again, which was previously restricted.

Nowadays it is almost obligatory everywhere to show your Health Code app on your mobile phone if you want to enter somewhere. This is an app that uses a traffic light system to indicate whether you are potentially at risk, and if it's "green" you may enter. Fortunately, the number of inquiries and interest in setting up companies in Germany - and of course especially in Bremen - is increasing again, which is a good sign.

likes Bremen: Huong Thi Hoang
likes Bremen: Huong Thi Hoang © WFB/Pusch

Vietnam

Hoang Thi Huong works in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial centre, from where she supports companies that want to expand or establish their business in Bremen. Measures taken to counter the coronavirus outbreak are having far-reaching consequences in Vietnam too:

“Almost all businesses have closed and public transport has been suspended. People are advised to stay at home, and when they do go out, for example to go shopping or visit their doctor, they have to wear protective masks. Strict social distancing rules have been in force since 1 April. No statistical data is available yet on how badly the economy has been affected, but many factories are no longer producing anything. And the few that still are will soon run out of materials as the measures are hindering import and export. The situation is similar in the service sector, where only food deliveries, goods transport and the food supply chain are still in operation. Companies are also limited in the amount of certain goods, such as medicine and rice, that they can export, and are prohibited from organising events or hosting guests.

I have been working from home for over two weeks as there was a case of coronavirus in my apartment block very early on – fortunately, I have not become infected myself! I would be unable to go to work now anyway, as the electricity has been turned off in the building and no one is allowed in until 15 April. At home, I spend a lot of time looking after my children and speaking to my relatives – the hot topic everywhere is coronavirus, of course.

That’s also the main topic of conversation when I talk to my clients, which now mainly happens via email and telephone. Many of them are active in Bremen, which is why I keep them updated on the situation in Germany. I keep abreast of what is going on via the Weser-Kurier newspaper, the Vietnamese community in Bremen and my colleague in Bremen, Kolja Umland. My clients and I do a lot of planning, and talk about business plans and about possible visits to Bremen in the third quarter, when life will hopefully return to some sort of normality.”

Erol Tüfekҫi (left) at a meeting with a Turkish entrepreneur
Erol Tüfekҫi (left) at a meeting with a Turkish entrepreneur © bremeninvest

Turkey

Erol Tüfekçi runs the Bremeninvest office in Izmir, a major city in the west of the country. “The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure has stopped all international flights as part of its measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. Local flights are only allowed with a special permit from the governor, and public transport between major urban centres may only be used if you have special permission. Many shops have now closed, and all types of gatherings are prohibited for the time being. Although there is no total lockdown here, the government measures certainly feel like one.

Large shopping centres have been temporarily closed, with the exception of pharmacies and small retailers, as have major chains such as IKEA, Mediamarkt and other electronics retailers. Any store that is open has now cut its business hours, and the maximum number of customers permitted in shops at any one time is not allowed to exceed 10 per cent of the retail space. Everybody else has to wait.

People aged over 65 and those with a compromised immune system or chronic complaints are not allowed to go out at all. The police are helping the elderly with their shopping; they will visit door to door if they have been called out to provide assistance. Otherwise, it is family members who provide help. We go shopping for ourselves and our parents once a week, but otherwise we avoid leaving the apartment.

We try to keep ourselves motivated so as not to get depressed by this sad situation. We also regularly exercise in the evening, drink lots of water and take vitamins to stay healthy. I have been working from home for two weeks now, and I mainly communicate via email, WhatsApp and telephone. Almost all companies in Turkey have switched to working from home wherever possible, while others, such as vehicle manufacturers, have temporarily halted production. Manufacturers of medical goods are controlled more closely by the state and are currently prohibited from exporting their products.

The government has put together a €15 billion stimulus package, and two million families who are in receipt of standard social security will receive an additional 1,000 lira (€140) as part of the government’s Economic Stability Shield. Pensioners will also benefit from early payment in April of a 1,000 lira Ramadan Feast bonus due in May. In addition, state and private bank loans are easier to obtain and are available in larger amounts.”

Tim Ole Jöhnk knows Silicon Valley inside out.
Tim Ole Jöhnk knows Silicon Valley inside out. © WFB/Rathke

USA

Tim Ole Jöhnk is the director of the Northern Germany Innovation Office (NGIO), a joint initiative by Bremeninvest and other agencies in northern Germany. Its aim is to establish contacts and foster partnerships in Silicon Valley and thus give companies in northern Germany access to trends and innovations in this high-tech hub. Coronavirus is also the main topic of conversation in sunny California:

“We have been in lockdown for ten days now. San Francisco and the Bay Area were the first regions of the US to take this step, which was still regarded as extreme by many only a week ago. Now everyone is very happy that the local authorities took that decision.

My wife and I live on the Stanford University campus, which suddenly feels totally deserted. We have turned our dining room into an office and are making the best of the situation. We frequently use Zoom and other online services to talk to friends and family all over the world.” Read the full article by Tim Ole Jöhnk here

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