Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 31 May 2020

Coronavirus stirs panic at Singapore's financial centre after biggest bank evacuates 300 staff

An infection of an employee at DBS comes a day before the bank is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results, which will involve a news briefing via webcast rather than in person

As a precautionary measure, 300 DBS Bank employees vacated their office at Marina Bay Financial Centre in Singapore, after an employee was confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus. EPA
As a precautionary measure, 300 DBS Bank employees vacated their office at Marina Bay Financial Centre in Singapore, after an employee was confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus. EPA

The coronavirus outbreak rocked Singapore’s financial district after an infection at the country’s biggest bank prompted it to evacuate 300 workers.

DBS Group told employees on Level 43 at its Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3 headquarters to work from home after a staff member tested positive for the disease. The case is at least the third to strike the business district, where other firms have been sending workers home and setting up temperature-screening checkpoints to stem any further spreading of the deadly disease.

“During this difficult time, the bank will be providing this employee and his family with every support and guidance,” DBS said in a statement Wednesday. “We are also currently conducting detailed contact tracing with all employees and other parties that the infected employee may have come into contact with.” DBS is deep-cleaning and disinfecting the affected office space.

The virus that originated in China has now claimed 1,115 lives, all but two on the mainland. Singapore has 47 confirmed cases, according to health ministry figures as of Tuesday. Only Hong Kong has a larger number outside mainland China, excluding an outbreak on a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan.

The infection at DBS comes a day before it’s scheduled to report fourth-quarter results, which will involve a news briefing via webcast rather than in person. Other lenders across Asia including Hang Seng Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. are also going digital for earnings as they try to ensure staff safety while maintaining business continuity.

“It’s quite difficult for the banks in this region to organise physical meetings given the outbreak,” said David Wong, a Singapore-based banking analyst at Aletheia Capital Singapore. “But physical meetings are useful for getting to know people and establishing rapport.”

Singapore last week raised its disease response level to “orange,” the same grade used during the SARS epidemic, as it braced for what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said was a “major test for our nation.”

Employers in Singapore activated business continuity plans after the Ministry of Manpower issued an advisory asking them to prepare for widespread community transmission. DBS, OCBC and United Overseas Bank, the country’s largest banks, are among firms that are implementing measures that include having employees working from home or alternate sites, as well as monitoring temperatures of people entering their premises.

DBS has been doing temperature screening and stepped up cleaning of its premises. Next week it will issue care packs including masks, a thermometer, hand sanitiser and vitamin C, it said in the statement.

“The health and well-being of our staff are a top priority for us, and we will lend them every support to get through these uncertain times,” DBS said. The number of evacuees was given in a memo seen by Bloomberg earlier and confirmed by the bank.

At tomorrow’s earnings, DBS is expected to flag the risks from the coronavirus to its business, which spans across Asia including Greater China. DBS’s economists last week cut their forecast for Singapore’s 2020 economic growth by 0.5 percentage point, citing the expected impact of the outbreak on tourism.

DBS has a 30 per cent stake in MBFC Tower 3, which serves as its headquarters. The 46-story property is home to more than 4,800 employees, according to a filing in December 2012. Staff on the vacated 43rd floor include bankers serving small- and medium-sized businesses. Other tenants include London-based mining giant Rio Tinto and law firms Clifford Chance and WongPartnership, according to the property’s website.

A worker at an unidentified firm in nearby MBFC Tower 1 was confirmed as being infected with the coronavirus over the weekend, and another case was detected at Clifford Centre. The employee at Clifford works for United Industrial Corp., a Singapore developer, according to an advisory to tenants.

Standard Chartered Plc is an anchor tenant at Tower 1. The UK bank declined to comment.

Updated: February 12, 2020 03:40 PM

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