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From Fashion Front Rows to Film Awards, Coronavirus Travel Bans Cause Disruption

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More than 35,000 cases of 2019-nCoV, more commonly known as coronavirus, have now been confirmed in China, and the virus is making its presence felt by millions more around the world.

In an effort to prevent the virus from spreading, dozens of nations have enacted entry restrictions for Chinese travelers or foreign nationals who have recently visited China, with many airlines scaling back on flights, or simply no longer flying to and from the country. These travel bans have had a rippling effect on everything from art to fashion and sports, disrupting not only domestic, but also global events that have notable Chinese presence or participation.

In the arts, veteran actor Zhao Shuzhen was unable to attend the Independent Spirit Awards this past weekend in the US due to the government’s entry ban on Chinese citizens. That meant Zhao was unable to pick up her award for Best Supporting Female in The Farewell in person, with director Lulu Wang doing the honors in her stead.

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Less than a week ago, the Australian government announced that due to the viral outbreak, foreign nationals traveling from mainland China will be denied entry into the country for the following 14 days. This meant that a host of Chinese artists have had to withdraw or postpone upcoming performances in the country.

According to ArtsHubAsia TOPA (short for Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts) has since been forced to reschedule the performance Nocturnal x Asia TOPA, as well as performances by musicians Alex Wang and Howie Lee.

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The ban has also affected the Shanghai Ballet, who had to postpone their upcoming season in Australia until 2021.

Meanwhile in fashion, WWD reports that many of the top Chinese fashion editors, influencers, and designers’ schedules have been shaken up due to travel restrictions imposed by the US, Italian, and French governments for the duration of the so-called “Big Four runway shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Independent labels Angel Chen and Ricostru, as well as editors from Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and Instyle, have already partially or fully cancelled any involvement in these fashion weeks, according to Jing Daily.

These blanket bans may not affect everyone, however. Chinese influencer and model Daisy Dai tells RADII that people who spend a substantial amount of time abroad will face fewer travel restrictions, as many bans are dependent on how recently or how long one has been in China, and where. “When it comes to designers,” says Dai, “I assume many of them have already been in their country of showcasing for the past few weeks, prepping for the big day. Their shows will go on. We’ll just have to sit tight.”

Still, the expected absences may prove to be a big loss for fashion’s “Big Four,” as Chinese designers have constituted a growing presence at them in recent years. Perhaps New York Fashion Week can take a leaf from Chinese music festivals, and offer livestreamed versions of their runway shows.

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Even so, no amount of livestreaming can help designers whose suppliers and factories across the Chinese mainland have had to suspend their operations.

These enforced factory shutdowns are having the same effect on global tech. Although most major Chinese companies are confirmed to participate in the expo, mobile phone giants LG and ZTE have had to bow out of the Mobile World Congress — considered the biggest mobile phone expo in the world — reportedly due to reasons of supply shortage.

Restricted by the domestic lockdown, many of China’s top athletes are also having to forgo participation in important events. China’s national women’s soccer team is having to play a series of Olympic qualifying matches without their star player Wang Shuang, who is on lockdown in her hometown of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak.

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The fixtures were originally scheduled to be held in China but were moved to Australia due to fears around the coronavirus. Even for the players who did make it to Brisbane and Sydney, preparations have been far from ideal, with images circulating on social media showing players doing exercises in their hotel corridor due to them being quarantined before the games.

It’s not just Chinese footballers who are being affected either. Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo missed Manchester United’s training camp in Spain this past weekend due to fears he wouldn’t be allowed back into the UK due to potential coronavirus travel restrictions. Ighalo joined United on loan from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua in a surprise move at the end of January.

And in Japan, the severity of coronavirus — and the impact it could have in the coming months on pan-Asian travel and health — already has senior Olympic Games officials worried. According to The Guardian, Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, expressed concerns about the impact the spread of the virus has in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, due to begin on July 24. Muto warned that the outbreak could “throw cold water” onto the ongoing preparations.

Saburo Kawabuchi, mayor of the athletes’ village that will host up to 11,000 Olympians during the Games, echoed Muto’s worries, stating:

“I truly hope that the infectious disease will die down somehow so that we will be able to operate the Paralympics and Olympics smoothly. Worst case scenario, we will do our utmost for the athletes so that they will be able to concentrate on performing their best.”

Olympic organizers insist that at present there are no plans to cancel the Tokyo Games, but coronavirus could yet affect China’s participation in them.

Header image: Brunel Johnson on Unsplash

Elsbeth van Paridon
Sinologist Elsbeth van Paridon is an aficionada of fashion and urban culture. Deeply devoted to China’s urban underground scene, van Paridon also reports on trends in her own publications “The China Temper” and “China Under The Radar“.