LONDON/MILAN (Reuters) – Investment banks including Citigroup Inc (C.N), Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) and Nomura (8604.T) have curbed trips to Italy on fears that the coronavirus outbreak across the north of the country could quickly spread across Europe, four sources told Reuters.
Lazard (LAZ.N), BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) and Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) also rushed to warn staff against all non-essential travel to northern Italy, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as banking policies are confidential.
Bankers working on sensitive deals were told to seek special permission from top management if they still wanted to fly into Milan, Bologna or other northern Italian towns, the sources said.
Nomura was first to adopt a rigorous approach by restricting client visits to all countries with coronavirus cases, including France, one of the sources said.
“They are all grounded,” this source said referring to Nomura’s bankers in Milan.
Citi, Credit Suisse and Nomura declined to comment while Lazard was not immediately available.
The curbs come as coronavirus infections have soared across northern Italy over the past few days, causing seven deaths and nearly 300 cases. [nL5N2AP1N1]
It is the first time banks have restricted trips within Europe as most financial institutions have so far only applied travel bans to mainland China, imposing a 14-day quarantine on those who had recently returned.
Most bankers in London who want to see clients in Italy fear they may face similar quarantines.
Paris-based bankers have been urged to follow recommendations issued by the French government for people returning from “risky countries” – now including northern Italy – to stay home for 14 days, two of the sources said.
STUCK AT HOME
Nearly 300 people in Italy have come down with the virus since Friday, latest data showed, the vast majority of them in the wealthy northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.
Most financial institutions have told their employees living near the affected areas to work from home rather than the office and postpone business trips.
Credit Suisse has also encouraged local bankers to stay home and avoid face-to-face client visits, they said.
The banks declined to comment.
Milan-based Mediobanca MDBI.M and UniCredit (CRDI.MI) issued statements to emphasize their respective commitment to keeping their employees safe at home.
Similarly French banks BNP and Credit Agricole (CAGR.PA) urged their Italian staff to limit business trips, rely on “smart working” and suspend training activities and internal events.
Meanwhile a series of Italian private equity funds including Clessidra SGR, Armonia SGR and state-backed funds Fondo FSI and Fondo Italiano d’Investimento have cancelled their planned attendance at the SuperReturn conference in Berlin where they were set to talk about buyout deals in Italy.
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte warned on Tuesday that the economic fallout from the outbreak could be “very strong” but also said he was hopeful that the contagion would come under control soon given the measures his government had taken.
“I can’t say I’m not worried … but I’m confident we’ll have a containing effect in the next few days,” he said.
Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London and Valentina Za in Milan; Additional reporting by Maya Nikolaeva in Paris, Chibuike Oguh in New York Stephen Jewkes and Clara Denina; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Alexandra Hudson