Amazon defers 'non-essential' moves even in U.S. as corporate travel bans spread

(Reuters) - deferred all non-essential travel, within the U.S. and beyond, and Google set new restrictions for travel to South Korea and other places, as corporations moved to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

Coronavirus fears have intensified in recent days since countries besides China have reported a sharp increase in cases, with six countries reporting their first cases.

Amazon is one of the latest companies to clamp down on travel because of the outbreak, which has caused at least 2,797 deaths globally.

Google is banning travel to Iran and two Italian regions, Lombardy and the Veneto, where the virus is spreading. The company will also ban travel to South Korea and Japan, from March 2, a spokesman for the company confirmed.

Canada’s TD Bank Group told Reuters it was suspending all non-essential business travel to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Its peer Bank of Nova Scotia has also reportedly halted non-essential travel.

JetBlue which flies in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, became the first U.S. airline to offer waivers for all travel on Wednesday, announcing it would suspend change and cancellation fees for new flight bookings between Feb. 27 and March 11 this year.

Facebook Inc also said it would cancel its annual developer conference in May because of the virus.

Wall Street has plunged on fears of a likely pandemic.

New reported infections around the world now exceed those from mainland China, where the flu-like disease arose two months ago.

Amazon’s decision affects one of the largest U.S. workforces. As of Dec. 31, the company employed 798,000 full and part-time workers globally.

Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, notified members of his team Thursday ahead of a wider communication by the company on Friday, a spokeswoman said.

Previously Amazon had said it was putting travel restrictions to China in place. With this broader halt of employee work trips, it was not immediately clear how the company distinguished essential from non-essential travel.

Other companies including London Stock Exchange Group, and U.S. grains trader Cargill Inc have also placed curbs on non-essential travel.

Chipmaker Microchip Technology said it would not be attending any investor conferences in the rest of the current quarter, due to travel restrictions over the outbreak.

Switzerland banned large events expected to draw more than 1,000 people, prompting cancellation of the Geneva car show.

And, European airlines stepped up their warnings over the coronavirus outbreak, announcing cost cuts to help weather a storm of unknown severity and duration.

Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco, Bharath Manjesh and Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru, Nichola Saminather in Toronto; Editing by Peter Henderson, Nick Zieminski and Shailesh Kuber