While our US manufacturing operations are managing through the current impact of the COVID-19 virus, our Suzhou, China manufacturing team has already gone through this disruption and the emotions associated with the virus.
Following is a summary from Jacky Lee, Henny Penny Suzhou General Manager, outlining the challenges and emotions our Suzhou team experienced and the hope ahead as operations return to normal.
At the very beginning of the virus outbreak, with many unknowns and daily increases in newly infected and dead, the entire country was in a huge panic. Fear dominated the minds of everyone. We were living with my mom who is 74 years old and had some heart disease. We were aware of the high fatality rate for the elderly and our short supplies concerned us (everything related to the virus such as masks, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, medical alcohol were sold out). We were really scared what may happen next to the country and to us.
I don’t know if it is a good or bad thing that the outbreak happened during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). It is traditional that the population immigrates during holiday times, and this helped the virus spread. On the positive side, we were in the long holiday so there was no need to worry about work for the short time being. Soon we found things were not that simple. The central government escalated a travel ban and each province, city, town, and community began taking action immediately. We were basically locked in at home. In Shanghai, a city with over 25 million people, you rarely saw people on the street, on the bus, or in the subway. All shops were closed except some grocery & drug stores, and the whole city just became so dull and quiet suddenly.
With the incubation period determined at 14 days, the government extended our public holiday for 3 days. Soon after that Suzhou, Shanghai, and many other large population cities further extended the holiday for another 9 days as the situation didn’t seem to be under control. This gave us the longest spring festival ever, but after spending this much time at home, what you really miss is going out, being back to work, and meeting your colleagues which was not possible. I was quite frustrated and depressed at home and soon learned that many others were just like me. Some psychologists told us this is the symptom of information overload. They suggested that we limit our time reading about COVID-19 news to 1-2 hours a day, as news about coronavirus is everywhere on TV and social media. I believe they are right. We already knew the basic fact about this virus and knew the right things to do to protect us. We should not let the worry and depression ruin our daily life. I then picked a book which I always wanted to read but was not able to find time to do so. I also took over the chef’s role from my mom and really surprised the ladies with some innovative dishes. My wife and I even tried to play half an hour of badminton in our small living room. Checking business emails and calling in a Zoom meeting at home really gave me a feeling of existing. In the meantime, it seemed that we contained the virus gradually with the tremendous efforts the entire country put in. In the deep dark we saw a light from the dawn now.
On February 11th, Henny Penny Suzhou factory was allowed to reopen after a special team from SIP government came on site and checked all our preparation and policies, such as the temperature measuring, twice-daily sanitizing rule and sufficient facial mask stock. Our beautiful canteen (lunchroom) had to be remodeled with cardboard so we were not facing anyone when having lunch. We started the first day back with only 26 of our 58 people. Many of the Suzhou employees each had a different situation regarding how they could return to work. Fortunately, due to the great work by our team, we were the 600th company out of 3,000 in the Suzhou Industrial Park allowed to reopen while most of our suppliers were still closed at that time.
Since then, we see things are getting better every day. Our people found their way back to Suzhou and ended their quarantine. As of last week, we have 56 people attending work and production capacity is back to normal. Our suppliers’ operation and deliveries are back to normal as well. Franke’s truck driver had no trouble to cross province borders which was not allowed before. Outside the factory, you see people taking the bus or subway. You see shops open again and hosting customers. Just a few days ago, McDonald’s & KFC both resumed their dine in service as they had only delivery in many of their stores during the outbreak. Lastly, the traffic headache started bothering us again during the peak hours as the entire city is back to life.
Even though we still measure temperature, wear masks and be very careful about gathering today, we know in our hearts that we are safe now. None of our Henny Penny Suzhou employees or their family members were infected. My wife also went back to work and my mom is doing just fine, only that she needs to cook for us now.
I don’t know when things will be completely back to order globally, but I do know that the day will come, maybe very soon. I also know we will all become a better person after it. The crisis taught us to cherish what we possess today but take for granted. The crisis offered us an opportunity to pause for a moment, reflect, and get back on our way, only with a stronger body and more determined mind.