Singapore's DBS sends 300 staff home after one contracts coronavirus

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's biggest bank DBS Group Holdings DBSM.SI asked 300 staff to leave its head office in the financial district on Wednesday and work from home as a precautionary measure after an employee tested positive for coronavirus.

Singapore has reported 50 coronavirus cases, one of the highest tallies outside China, and there is mounting evidence of local transmission. The government has been trying to calm nerves after it raised the virus alert level last week, sparking panic buying of essentials such as rice and toilet paper.

“DBS confirms today that one employee has been infected with the novel coronavirus,” it said in a statement. DBS said an employee was tested on Feb. 11 and the bank was informed of the confirmation of coronavirus on Wednesday morning.

As of noon, the bank asked all staff on the floor where the infected person worked at its headquarters at the Marina Bay Financial Center (MBFC) to vacate the premises.

The bank employs more than 5,000 people at MBFC, where it occupies 18 floors in one tower. Employees at the bank told Reuters that other floors were unaffected.

“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 said.

Long lines formed this week outside some offices in Singapore’s financial district as employers started taking workers’ temperatures. Warnings by building managers of cases in some downtown offices have been widely shared on social media.

Some companies, including DBS, are cancelling physical results briefings and holding them via webcasts and teleconferences instead. The government has also cautioned people against shaking hands as a form of greeting.

The outbreak has revived memories of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which killed more than 30 people in Singapore in 2003, and nearly 800 worldwide.

DBS said it has activated business continuity plans, with employees working from home or from split sites. It said staff will also receive a care pack which includes face masks, a thermometer, hand sanitizer and vitamin C.

Reporting by Singapore newsroom; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Muralikumar Anantharaman and David Clarke