Valeo says it is to extend the closure of its plants in Wuhan to 14 February following instructions from Chinese authorities.

The move from Hubei Province in which Wuhan is situated is being followed by all manufacturers in the region as Beijing battles the rapidly escalating crisis triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Hubei Province – in which Wuhan is situated – issued the directive to extend the Chinese Lunar New holidays – themselves already stretched to 2 February by a further 12 days as authorities struggle to contain the virus whose death toll has now reached 361.

Wuhan is at the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis and where several French companies including PSA, Renault, Faurecia, Plastic Omnium and Valeo have operations and to where Beijing has sent thousands of medical staff in a bid to combat the outbreak. Ford and Renault have already said they will keep plants shut until 10 February, a week beyond the end of the Chinese New Year holiday, while PSA operates through its joint venture [Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroen Automobile – DPCA].

A second French repatriation flight touched down at the Air Force base of Istres in Provence yesterday (2 February) following an earlier evacuation by military aircraft, although it is unclear how many Valeo and other manufacturing staff with their families, were on board.

Paris decided to activate the Civil Protection Mechanism provided for by the European Union in cases of urgent action to be taken and to that end, also brought back 291 citizens from 30 EU countries on the Airbus A380.

“Like all businesses, Valeo is following the directives of the Chinese authorities,” a Valeo spokesman told just-auto from Paris. “The Hubei Province authorities have decided the opening of business will be [put back to] 14 February.

“Obviously we are following carefully the evolution of the situation to anticipate all measures which will be necessary to ensure the protection of staff. It is a directive imposed on everybody.

“We have three [Wuhan] sites: two production sites for lighting and thermal activities and one R&D centre.”

On their respective flights to Wuhan, both aircraft carried medical supplies and the deep complexity of the operation can be gauged by the plethora of French Ministries involved, including those of Defence, Health, Interior and Foreign Affairs.

“France underlines the efficient cooperation with the Chinese authorities, which has allowed the smooth running of this operation,” said a statement from the Quai d’Orsay [Foreign Ministry) in Paris. “The Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has moreover discussed the situation with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

“The Foreign Ministry is paying particular attention to the concerns of our compatriots abroad. Since 23 January, our Ambassador in Beijing, our Consulate General in Wuhan and Ministry services, have been totally mobilised in the framework of the response to the crisis associated with the coronavirus.

“The Wuhan Consulate General is in permanent contact with our fellow citizens in Hubei and is following their situation. The Secretary of State publicly recognises the Quai d’Orsay crisis and support centre, the services of our Embassy in Beijing and those of the Wuhan Consulate General, which have been exemplary and which have been helping our compatriots to allow them to be reassured on the one hand and repatriated on the other.”

Last week, Valeo said it had not suffered any operational impact from the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, where it has 1,900 employees, although it continued to follow the situation closely while shut for Chinese New Year.

Of those 1,900 staff, only a very few are French citizens, with an update due shortly on whether or not they were on the recent repatriation flights.

Today saw a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, to discuss the coronavirus. The meeting was chaired by CPC Central Committee General Secretary, Xi Jinping.

Information from State-run agencies and published by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, noted party committees and governments at all levels should “firmly follow the command, coordination and arrangement of the CPC Central Committee,” according to Xi, urging strict enforcement of orders and prohibitions.

Xi also demanded opposition against what the Chinese term bureaucratism.