Singapore's financial district on high alert as infections surface there

Companies have stepped up temperature screening of staff and visitors, daily sanitisation of offices

Tue, Feb 11, 2020 - 5:50 AM
UPDATED Tue, Feb 11, 2020 - 3:27 PM

BUSINESSES clustered in Singapore's financial district have heightened their monitoring efforts amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, reflecting the realities of Singapore being a large financial centre where banks and other large corporations dot Shenton Way and the Marina Bay.

Two circulars seen by The Business Times revealed a confirmed case of an employee of one of the tenants at Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC) having contracted the virus. Standard Chartered is a key tenant at MBFC Tower 1, while DBS is a key tenant at MBFC Tower 3, though the three MBFC towers also house other financial institutions and large corporates.

In a media statement from Raffles Quay Asset Management (RQAM) sent on Tuesday morning, RQAM confirmed that the tenant of this employee is housed at MBFC Tower 1. The employee was diagnosed with the virus on Feb 8. "The affected office space, lifts and ground floor common area have been deep cleaned and disinfected in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines," a spokesman said.

In a media statement, StanChart said the bank will continue to monitor the situation very closely in Singapore, while declining to comment on this specific case. "Our priority is the health and safety of all our employees and clients while minimising service disruptions. We have a well-established business continuity plan," said a StanChart spokesman.

This includes activated temperature screening at branches and office buildings, as well as increased frequency of daily sanitisation at all branches and office premises daily.

Over at Clifford Centre, an employee of United Industrial Corporation (UIC) - which has its office there - was confirmed to have been infected with the virus. This circular dated Feb 7 - the same date of notification from the Ministry of Health - said the last day the patient was on the premises was on Jan 23. No other UIC employee displayed any related symptoms as at the time of the circular. The building has been disinfected.

As is done at most offices and business outlets now, employees and visitors at banking premises must declare their travel history, while temperature screening processes have been put in place.

In Singapore, UOB has stopped large-scale internal meetings such as training, seminars and workshops, it said on Monday. Large-scale public gatherings such as roadshows and major customer events have also been postponed, and the bank is restricting all overseas business travel at this point in time.

As for DBS, a spokesperson said that the bank has put in place precautionary measures, which includes higher frequency in the cleaning and disinfection of its premises.

"In addition, we are sending out regular notices to remind all employees to remain vigilant and to adopt good personal hygiene and awareness of their surroundings," added the spokesperson.

At banks, business continuity plans for all critical functions and services have been activated, and employees will be working from split sites, from home and on split shifts. Bank branches remain open. Frontline banking staff have been given masks.

Added UOB: "While our branches (in Singapore) remain open, we would ask customers who are feeling unwell, have been put on a leave of absence, or are serving a home quarantine order not to come to our branches at this time. We will also have to ask those who have been to mainland China in the last 14 days to reschedule their visit to our branches." Customers are able to use their mobile, phone and Internet banking options to conduct their banking, UOB said.

MAS said on Sunday that financial institutions should anticipate and be prepared to manage any increase in demand for certain financial services - such as cash withdrawal or online financial services - and inform customers promptly of the availability of services and operating hours.

Financial institutions should also remain vigilant on the cyber security front, MAS said, given the cases of "cyber threat actors" taking advantage of the 2019-nCoV situation to conduct email scams, phishing and ransomware attacks.

Separately, UOB has closed two banking outlets in Shanghai and Beijing, and separately shut its commercial banking centre in Kwun Tong, Hong Kong until Feb 14 as precautionary measures against the novel coronavirus outbreak, the lender said.

A small number of colleagues remain in its office in mainland China to "support critical business and customer services", UOB said, highlighting that it does not have operations in Hubei. In Hong Kong, UOB will continue to offer commercial banking services via its commercial banking centres in Kowloon and Causeway Bay, though it has closed the centre in Kwun Tong till Feb 14.

Other banks including OCBC Wing Hang Bank, StanChart and HSBC have similarly announced the suspension of branches or services in Hong Kong and Macau since end January.

Additional reporting by Vivien Shiao, Natalie Choy and Rachel Mui