HSBC has evacuated a floor of its Canary Wharf office tower after an employee was confirmed to have caught coronavirus.

The bank has sent 100 people home and ordered a deep clean of the 10th floor, which houses its research department. This has so far not affected HSBC’s trading floor, which carries out large transactions on financial markets for big institutions. The evacuation was first reported by Financial News.

HSBC said: “We have been informed that one of our employees at 8 Canada Square has been diagnosed with Covid-19. This colleague is under medical supervision and has self-isolated. We are working closely with the health authorities.

“We are deep-cleaning the floor where our colleague worked and shared areas of the building. Colleagues on that floor, and others who came into contact with him, have been advised to work at home. Based on medical and official advice the building remains open and operates as normal. Our first priority and concern is the health of our employees and customers – and we are encouraging our colleagues to monitor their health carefully and stay at home or call a doctor if they feel unwell.”

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Justin McCurry

Other companies are also making plans to send staff home, if the epidemic escalates. Tesco on Wednesday told more than 5,000 staff at its Welwyn Garden City headquarters in Hertfordshire and other offices to prepare to work from home.

Lloyd’s of London, the world’s biggest insurance market, this week announced “emergency trading protocols” to allow the market to remain open if the situation escalates. Lloyd’s 1,000 staff, along with thousands of brokers and underwriters who work for other firms, would be asked to work from home and to resort to electronic trading.

Britain’s financial services regulator said on Wednesday it has “no objection” in principle to City staff working remotely due to coronavirus quarantine measures.

However, the Financial Conduct Authority said firms must take all reasonable steps to keep operating effectively and support their customers.

The FCA said: “For example, we would expect firms to be able to enter orders and transactions promptly into the relevant systems, use recorded lines when trading and give staff access to the compliance support they need. If firms are able to meet these standards and undertake these activities from backup sites or with staff working from home, we have no objection to this.”

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