Fears surrounding the fast-spreading coronavirus prompted automakers and suppliers last week to restrict business travel in and out of China, where the key auto-industry city of Wuhan was identified as the illness' epicenter.
In an effort to contain the outbreak, which had been blamed for 41 deaths as of late Friday, Jan. 24, Chinese officials have restricted travel for 35 million people — including a complete quarantine of Wuhan, a city of 11 million, 400 miles west of Shanghai.
On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. government was arranging a charter flight to begin evacuating U.S. citizens and diplomats from Wuhan. It was unclear if there would be one flight or multiple flights arranged. Roughly 1,000 Americans are said to be living in the Wuhan area, the Journal said.
Separately, auto companies began limiting employee movement in and out of China, and French automaker PSA Group said it will repatriate expatriate staff and their families from the Wuhan area.
SAIC GM, General Motors' joint venture with SAIC Motor Corp. that builds and markets Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet cars and light trucks, has a large manufacturing plant in Wuhan that employs just less than 6,000 people.
Jim Cain, spokesman for GM, told Automotive News that the automaker has restricted all business travel to China and has asked employees in the country to follow all necessary protective measures suggested by local authorities. Cain did not have updated information on the status of the plant.
FCA spokesman Michael Palese said the automaker had restricted travel for 11 Chinese cities as of Friday afternoon. FCA also is continuing its travel advisory for China and issuing precautions for its employees inside the country, but said none of its projects had directly been affected yet.
Ford Motor Co. spokesman Anderson Chan said Friday that the automaker has a dedicated team to monitor the situation to determine a course of action for its employees. Ford's Chinese operations are in Chongqing and Nanjing.
Though Ford does not operate in Wuhan, Ford restricted all business travel to the city, Chan said. "We are encouraging employees to remain calm and informed through official government sources," he said.
PSA, the maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars, said that 38 people would be evacuated from the Wuhan area and that the initiative will be executed in full collaboration with the Chinese authorities and the French general consulate. The evacuees will remain in quarantine in Changsha before traveling back to their home countries, PSA said.
PSA also said it was taking measures with Dongfeng to take care of their joint venture's Chinese employees.