MAGAZINE Welcome to China, post-lockdown

Parts of Asia, such as China, are recovering earlier than other global regions from coronavirus. What lessons can Europe learn?

That was the theme of an Urban Land Institute webinar held last month following the end to Wuhan and Hubei Province’s lockdown after 76 days of quarantine.

Over the period, landlords were operating in China with some cities in lockdown and others, including some parts of Shanghai, ‘open all the way through’, explained Charles Chan, China head at CapitaLand.

Even if buildings stayed open it didn’t mean they weren’t affected by the virus as people were encouraged to work from home. China Life’s office portfolio was only 30% occupied at one point; by mid-March 90% of workers were back.

CapitaLand’s mall in Wuhan, one of 45 in China, was closed except for the supermarket. Chan said by the second week of re-opening traffic was only 30% of last year, year-on-year, yet the government was encouraging people to shop.

‘We saw a lot of traffic jams in the city because people were driving rather than taking public transport. Our other malls, those in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai are a lot better. They are trading with 70%-80% of traffic, YOY, but in terms of turnover, about 60%, so it has still not caught up with where they were before.’

Carrie Liu, head of real estate at China Life, described measures taken to facilitate confidence to return to work and visit public places. Cinemas and karaoke bars remain shut.

Though landlords play a big part, government surveillance of the population has been crucial. Landlords require all tenants to give a daily report on staff’s health; the landlord provides masks and disinfection materials and tenants must store enough Covid-19 prevention supplies.

Meanwhile, the government’s ‘Health QR code’ – a mobile phone app displaying green for ‘good to go’, amber for seven and red for 14 days in quarantine – plus nationwide face recognition cameras, track every citizen’s movements and help landlords manage their buildings. They are responsible for everyone in them being cleared. Temperature checks on entering are mandatory.

‘And of course, the government provides onsite support officials to every building because if any tenants don’t want to cooperate, the onsite officials will help you to ensure it,’ said Liu.
That picture prompted Jon Zehner of LaSalle Investment Management to suggest it was ‘a big question whether Europe is ready for that kind of information being available for each citizen’.

Stuart Mercier, China head at Brookfield Asset Management, and Brian Chinappi of Actis also took part in the online debate, as did ULI’s China director Kenneth Rhee.

The panel said Korea, by contrast, never locked down, managing the pandemic through social distancing. Meanwhile, India’s national lockdown runs to 3 May.

Mercier emphasised it was important to reinstate confidence in safety. ‘Regardless of the approach that is taken in Europe down the road, giving people the confidence that the infrastructure to make that a reality is in place is going to be critical in getting people up and running.’


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