Coronavirus: DBS Bank evacuates 300 as staffer tests positive

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By:
Elliot Wilson
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DBS evacuated 300 employees from Tower 3 of Singapore’s Marina Bay Finance Centre, after an employee tested positive for coronavirus. It comes as banks across the region re-examine worst-case scenarios as the pathogen spreads.

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People enter Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3, where DBS headquarters is situated in Singapore, on Wednesday


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DBS Bank is the first lender directly to be impacted by the growing threat from coronavirus.

On Wednesday, the Singapore-based lender said a staff member tested the previous day was infected with the pathogen.

On the stroke of noon, all 300 employees working on floor 43 of Marina Bay Finance Centre’s (MBFC) Tower 3 were told to vacate the premises, and work from home.

In a statement issued to the media, DBS said it was “conducting detailed contact tracing with all employees and other parties that the infected employee may have come into contact with”.

Most of the bank’s senior executives, including CEO Piyush Gupta, work extremely close by, on floors 45 and 46, and share the same set of elevators as the afflicted individual.

In accordance with its business continuity plans (BCP) and health ministry guidelines, DBS said it had disinfected all common areas, including bathrooms and elevators. From next week, all employees will receive a care pack including masks, a thermometer, hand sanitizer and vitamin C tablets.

The bank has expanded its BCP measures, with more back-office staff, including senior executives, told to work from home, or at split sites.

Hardest hit

The news could not have come at a worse time for Singapore, the country hardest hit by the outbreak outside of China. On Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Lion City ticked up to 47. The death toll in China is currently at 1,113, up more than 200 over the last two days.

On Saturday, an employee in MBFC’s Tower 1 tested positive for the virus; when doors opened for business on Monday, bankers found the premises disinfected and industrial-quality temperature checkpoints in place.

Tower 1 is home to investment firm Wellington Management, Societe Generale and Standard Chartered, which is ramping up medical screenings and in-office sterilization.

Banks across Asia, but particularly in Hong Kong and Singapore – both home to the region’s most developed and vibrant financial centres – are adapting to the outbreak in different ways.

DBS’s decision to evacuate an entire floor, while not surprising, runs counter to the approach taken by HSBC in Hong Kong. If a staff member is taken ill, and is later confirmed positive for the virus, any colleague she or he has been in direct contact with will be sent home and told to self-quarantine.

However, no wider evacuation – of the floor or the building in question, including the bank’s headquarters – will take place.

That view was at odds with most of the city’s banks. Asked what would happen if a trader or investment banker was taken ill while at work, a spokesperson at a leading Hong Kong-based financial institution said the entire floor would be evacuated.

“If it was my floor, and I was working near the affected person, I would certainly self-evacuate,” the person said. “Then I’d find a pub somewhere.”