LONDON/MILAN (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Inc, Credit Suisse and other investment banks have curbed trips to Italy amid fears that the coronavirus outbreak across the north of the country could quickly spread across Europe, sources said.
Lazard, BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank also rushed to warn staff against all “non-essential travel” to northern Italy, four sources told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity as banking policies are confidential.
Bankers working on sensitive deals were told to seek special permission from top management if they still wanted to fly into Milan, Bologna or other northern Italian towns, the sources said.
Goldman said its travel restrictions applied to Italy’s Lombardy and Veneto regions, and South Korea. It also advised staff against travel to, from and within the rest of Italy. Those who recently visited affected areas were told to isolate themselves and stay away from the office for at least 14 days.
Japanese bank Nomura was first to adopt a rigorous approach by restricting client visits to all countries with coronavirus cases, including France, one of the sources said.
“They are all grounded,” this source said referring to Nomura’s bankers in Milan.
Citi, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and Nomura declined to comment. Lazard was not immediately available.
Coronavirus infections have soared across northern Italy in the past few days, causing almost 300 cases and seven deaths.
It is the first time banks have restricted trips within Europe as most financial institutions have so far only applied travel bans to mainland China, imposing a 14-day quarantine on those who recently returned.
Most bankers in London who want to see clients in Italy fear they may face similar quarantines.
Paris-based bankers have been urged to follow recommendations issued by the French government for people returning from “risky countries” - now including northern Italy - to stay home for 14 days, two of the sources said.
Nearly 300 people in Italy have come down with the virus since Friday, latest data showed, the vast majority of them in the wealthy northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.
Most financial institutions have told their employees living near the affected areas to work from home rather than the office and postpone business trips.
Morgan Stanley, Lazard and Barclays have empty offices in Milan as most staff are working remotely, three other sources said.
Credit Suisse has also encouraged local bankers to stay home and avoid face-to-face client visits, they said.
The banks declined to comment.
Milan-based Mediobanca and UniCredit issued statements to emphasize their respective commitment to keeping employees safe at home.
French banks BNP and Credit Agricole urged Italian staff to limit business trips, rely on “smart working” and suspend training activities and internal events.
Italian private equity funds including Clessidra SGR and Armonia SGR, as well as state-backed funds Fondo FSI and Fondo Italiano d’Investimento, have canceled their planned attendance at the SuperReturn conference in Berlin where they were set to talk about buyout deals in Italy.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday the economic fallout from the outbreak could be “very strong” but said he was hopeful the contagion would soon come under control.
“I can’t say I’m not worried ... but I’m confident we’ll have a containing effect in the next few days,” he said.
Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London and Valentina Za in Milan; Additional reporting by Sinead Cruise, Maya Nikolaeva, Chibuike Oguh, Stephen Jewkes and Clara Denina; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Edmund Blair