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In Dalian, French entrepreneur keeps production steady despite virus

Updated: Jun 28, 2020 China Daily Print

French entrepreneur Fabien Azzi introduces products made by his company to a client in Dalian, Liaoning province, in June, 2020. [Photo by Zhang Xiaomin/China Daily]

Frenchman Fabien Azzi has maintained steady production at his company despite the novel coronavirus epidemic in China, supported by the efforts of employees and the local government in Dalian, Liaoning province.

The company, Holophane Dalian, a producer of glass optics for automotive headlights, can manufacture more than 10,000 lenses every day.

Every week, one or two 20-foot equivalent units are sent to other countries, including Japan, Thailand and Malaysia as well as domestic cities like Foshan, Guangdong province.

"However, as the world's automotive sector is hit hard by the pandemic, our sales volume is expected to be reduced substantially this year," said Azzi, the general manager. He added that despite this, the company will try to avoid layoffs.

"It is hard, but we can face it together," he said.

He and the employees have had increased communication over the past several months. When the company was preparing to restart production in early February, it set up a group conversation on WeChat with all the employees.

Everyone was asked to answer a list of questions daily, including the route by which they came to Dalian and the state of their health.

"It was the first time we had such a big group with all 170 staff members in it," Azzi said. "We don't need to answer the questions anymore, but we still use the group chat for everyday communication. All the workers feel the company is with them."

Azzi had planned to spend Spring Festival in Dalian and then go to Bali, Indonesia, for vacation on Feb 10.

But events intervened.

"My family insisted on going back to France. But I refused. I am very confident about the Chinese government. If we respect the rules, we'll be safe," he told China Daily earlier this month in his office in Dalian's Jinpu New Area.

Azzi, who has been in China for 18 years, is not regarded as a "foreigner" by the employees, said Du Yuanyuan, an employee of Holophane Dalian.

"He takes Dalian as his second hometown. During the past months, he always encouraged us to believe in the company and go through the crisis together," she said.

On Jan 28, Dalian issued its first order to government and public institutions to take preventive measures and make controlling the epidemic their top priority.

Relevant government personnel were asked to cancel their vacations and return to their posts. Grassroots institutions were required to monitor the health status of residents, migrants and returnees daily. Other measures included postponing the spring semester of schools and adopting transport restrictions.

Holophane Dalian adjusted its internal rules accordingly.

Thanks to effective preparation and communication with the local government, the company was able to restart on Feb 10. Prevention measures were strictly implemented, including keeping doors open for ventilation during work, wearing masks, keeping only one entrance and exit to the factory open and disinfecting upon entry.

According to Azzi, government officials from Dalian Customs, the Jinpu New Area, the Dalian Foreign Affairs Office and other institutions came to visit the plant to reiterate their demands and introduce policies.

An official in the city's foreign affairs office who speaks French is always available on WeChat whenever he needs help, Azzi said.

As a member of French Foreign Trade Advisors, Azzi wrote an article in May in its bimonthly magazine, sharing Dalian's useful measures for curbing COVID-19 and the support offered to local enterprises.

"The Chinese government encourages resumption of work and production, so long as health and epidemic prevention measures are in place," Azzi wrote. "At the same time, the Dalian government issued a series of measures to help enterprises through the crisis."

Supporting policies such as deferring the payment of housing funds, underpaying social security fees and decreasing electrical bills were quickly implemented in Dalian. The government helped foreign-funded enterprises solve the problems of returning to work and restarting production, he wrote.

Enterprises submitted online letters of commitment for epidemic prevention and control and implemented the health code and daily reporting system for employees.

"I was impressed by how fast the government reacted," Azzi said. "It's really efficient and effective."

He expects that government incentive measures will continue until the end of this year.

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