Banks in Hong Kong, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co, are once again tightening work rules at their offices and moving into split teams as the detection of the omicron variant threatens a fifth wave of infections in the Asian financial hub.
In a memo to staff on Thursday, Goldman announced it was moving to split teams with one half working from home over the next two weeks as of Monday. The policy will be in effect until Jan. 21, according to a memo that was confirmed by a spokesman. JPMorgan made similar move, effective on Jan. 7, according to a memo. The bank will suspend dine-in services at staff cafeterias and provide free take-away meals in the coming two weeks.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city’s de facto central bank, already on Friday sent a missive to banks to tell them to allow employees to work from home and split staff into different teams, according to a correspondence seen by Bloomberg News. HKMA didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment. The Hong Kong Economic Journal reported on the message earlier.
The measures come about seven months since business life largely returned to normal as the city’s fourth wave of infections subsided. The emergence of omicron is putting the city’s Covid-zero strategy to the test after it detected the first local transmission in nearly seven months. Officials on Wednesday ordered bars, gyms, swimming pools, nightclubs closed from Friday for two weeks and restaurants to end dine-in services at 6 p.m.
UBS Group AG asked all business functions in Hong Kong to revert to two split teams to alternate office work week by week while Bank of America Corp. “encouraged” employees to work at home until Jan. 24. HSBC Holdings Plc is also limiting its office capacity to 50% from Friday.
Wall Street banks have also backtracked on a push to refill office towers in the U.S., with Goldman and Citigroup Inc., among others, asking staff to work from home amid surging infections.
UBS also asked staff in Hong Kong to not go between floors to avoid potential cross contamination and to not interact socially outside the office with members of the alternate team, according to memo that was confirmed by a spokesman. The policy, effective immediately, is to ensure the bank can continue operations in the event of an outbreak, it said. All physical meetings are limited to a maximum of 12 people at the bank.
Goldman said that any staff that feels uncomfortable can work from home after coordinating with their manager.
Standard Chartered told staff to work in split teams in Hong Kong. “We’ve managed through multiple Covid-19 waves before so we know we can overcome this,” the bank said in a memo to its staff that was confirmed by a spokeswoman. It urged employees to bring laptops home every day and called on staff to avoid large-scale organized events and unnecessary social gatherings.
Hong Kong’s annual flagship Asian Financial Forum scheduled for Monday was also changed to all virtual from a hybrid physical event due to the latest tightened public health measures, the organizer announced late Wednesday.
Frustration has been mounting among businesses in Hong Kong over the city’s stringent quarantine rules, which require arrivals to stay at government facilities and hotels for as long three weeks. Business groups in Hong Kong are warning that it puts the city’s status as a global financial hub at risk. An October survey found almost half of major international banks and asset managers are contemplating moving employees or functions out of Hong Kong.
Officials on Wednesday also halted flights from eight countries, including the U.K. and the U.S.