Fear of coronavirus has split opinion among big VC firms over whether they should keep traveling to Asia

  • Talis Capital, the London-based backer of cybersecurity unicorn Darktrace, has cancelled all travel to Asia over fear of the novel coronavirus. 
  • The development of a vaccine that successfully treats COVID-19 is still far off — at least a year in the best-case scenario.
  • Shopify backer OMERS Ventures said the economic threat of cancelling travel plans might be worse than the health risk itself. 
  • Jungle Ventures, based in Singapore, told Business Insider it was “confident” the crisis would subside within the coming months. 
  • Here’s everything we know about the outbreak.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

The coronavirus outbreak has split opinion among venture capitalists in Europe as to whether they should cancel flights to China – with some shutting down travel to Asia altogether.

Coronavirus causes a disease known as COVID-19, which has killed more than 2,800 people and infected more than 82,000 others globally since December. According to the WHO, the disease can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and others around them breathe in or touch surfaces where those droplets land.

Talis Capital, a VC firm based in London and an early backer of cybersecurity unicorn Darktrace, said it had cancelled all travel to China and Asia as a precaution. 

Speaking to Business Insider, Matus Maar, the firm’s managing partner and cofounder, said: “We have both investors and investments there and they themselves are limiting travel and working from home. Those we work with in the region are avoiding travel between cities and internationally.” 

Asked about the impact the virus was having on the global tech industry, he said: “There will be some ripple effect while China’s manufacturing and supply chain is weakened.” 

Apple warned on earlier this month that it did not expect to hit its March revenue targets due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

“However, the dynamics of staying home and working from home, plus the low supplies in physical stores in Asia, mean online sales are booming,” Maar added.

“Unless the situation gets worse by many multiples, the online business will continue to boom and the offline will get worse.” 

Meanwhile OMERS Ventures, which has previously invested in Shopify and Crunchbase, said the economic threat of cancelling travel plans might be worse than the health risk itself. 

“The trouble is that travel is a huge part of the job for VCs like us,” said London-based managing partner Harry Briggs. “So while we can use Zoom a little more, frankly it wouldn’t be sustainable to cease travel completely for long.

“Naturally we’ll keep a watching brief on government advice and OMERS’ expert medical advice in the meantime.”

Jungle Ventures, based in Singapore, told Business Insider it was “confident” the crisis would subside within the coming months. 

“While a virus of this sort will disrupt business a little, and we are seeing the impact on global stock markets, it cannot stop the huge opportunity and transition that we see now in south-east Asia,” said cofounder Amit Anand.

“The Singapore government took strong and concerted actions to mitigate the risk and prevent the spread of the virus,” he added. “We are confident that the crisis will subside in the next couple of months.” 

In the US, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz asked visitors to avoid handshakes as a precaution.

Not everyone is on lockdown. Playfair Capital managing partner Chris Smith said it was “business as usual.”

He said: “We are travelling as normal, mostly in Europe and to Israel and the US.” Smith added he had cancelled a family trip to Hong Kong, in order to not expose older family to any unnecessary risk. 

He continued: “Like most people in the start-up ecosystem, we take a data driven approach to things and will be monitoring infection rates to see if we need to make any changes to how we operate.”

Connect Ventures partner Rory Stirling said most people were continuing as normal, but there was “the occasional polite nod instead of a handshake” at meetings and conferences.

The UK government is not currently recommending a total clampdown on travel to Asia, but suggests travellers self-quarantine if they visit regions where the novel coronavirus is widespread including mainland China, parts of Korea, and parts of Italy, among other areas.

Has your company limited travel plans due to fears around the coronavirus? Contact Martin Coulter on mcoulter@businessinsider.com 

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