JPMorgan Chase & Co. curbed non-essential travel globally, joining a string of other corporate giants in restricting business trips as the spreading coronavirus risks becoming a pandemic.
Because of the broadening spread of the virus, it’s now “restricting all international travel to essential travel only,” the New York-based bank said in a memo distributed to staff, confirmed by spokespeople. The move marks an escalation in its travel precautions, which had previously been limited to regions where the spread of the virus has been heaviest, such as parts of Asia and northern Italy.
Banks around the world are acting to ensure they can keep their businesses running as the virus spreads, restricting travel, splitting up teams and traders to different locations and quarantining staff. The outbreak has halted a broad swath of deal making in Asia, but also on Wall Street. Banks such as HSBC Holdings Plc have also warned the virus may force them to set aside more money for soured loans.
Outside the banking world, firms ranging from the world’s largest trader of farm crops to the biggest food and beverage company have also suspended business travel, increasing the risk to the global economy as markets tumble. Nestle SA, the employer of 291,000 people worldwide, was one of the first multinational companies to take the decisive step of halting business travel.
The coronavirus is now at a “decisive” stage with the potential to become a pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said in Geneva on Thursday. In Asia, the virus is spreading in countries outside China, where new cases are slowing. Japan announced it will close all schools, while South Korean infections have topped 2,000. It’s spreading in Europe and the Middle East, with countries including Italy, Iran and Sweden reporting more cases. Nigeria confirmed its first infection, the first reported in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the group’s daily briefing in Geneva.
In its memo, JPMorgan said before deciding on travel its staff should consider whether the meeting can be postponed, done remotely and if the travel will pose personal or firm-wide risk. “Employees are encouraged to bring their laptops and power cords home, test their remote access capabilities,” the bank said. The lender has 256,000 employees globally.
Other banks are also taking measures. Credit Suisse Group AG has started to split its workers in South Korea into different offices to ensure business can continue, while lenders including Deutsche Bank AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. restricted travel to Italy, the worst-hit nation in Europe. Nomura Holdings Inc. has asked its employees to refrain from unnecessary travel to countries stricken by the virus.
UBS Group AG put South Korea on a so-called level 2 as part of it business continuity planning, in line with Hong Kong and Singapore. At HSBC, South Korea is rated as an “increased caution,” meaning business travel can continue but employees should reconsider the need for the trip and avoid the heaviest hit areas of Daegu and Gyeongbuk, a spokeswoman said. Morgan Stanley has also restricted travel to and from South Korea.