Coronavirus Asia

Shanghai's financial firms tighten curbs amid virus flare-up

SHANGHAI • A year after becoming the world's first major financial centre to tame the coronavirus, Shanghai is going back on high alert.

The fast-moving Delta variant outbreak across China forced some global banks and local financial institutions to bring back the containment playbook.

Shanghai's more than 470,000 finance professionals, who have nearly all been back at work and mask-free since the middle of last year, now face regular temperature scans and checks to enable contact tracing.

At some banks, people were told to put their masks back on in common areas, and hosting visitors in conference rooms was prohibited again.

Among those shifting their stance is Fidelity International, which is again discouraging its Shanghai employees from non-essential travel and urging them to avoid large crowds.

Some are preparing for the worst. Guotai Junan Securities is drawing up contingency plans, which include having rotating shifts to ensure continuous operations if necessary, according to a memo last week. Departments at the brokerage with vaccination rates below 90 per cent are being urged to get their employees inoculated.

In just three weeks, China's local confirmed Covid-19 cases have grown to more than 1,000 across half the country, including Shanghai and the capital Beijing.

While China has stuck to its regime of mass testing and targeted lockdowns that have crushed more than 30 previous flare-ups, the speed and scale of the latest outbreak risk disrupting businesses in the world's second-largest economy at a time when growth projections are already being slashed.

Shanghai, which houses stock, bond, currency, gold and other exchanges with annual transactions of 1,900 trillion yuan (S$398 trillion), is home to 1,600 financial institutions, of which about 30 per cent are from overseas, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

At the city's International Finance Centre, all tenants are being urged to make the necessary arrangements for employees to work and dine while avoiding crowds, and stick to government health requirements. Anyone entering the building, whose occupants include HSBC Holdings and Fidelity, must also wear masks and have their digital health codes greenlighted.

A tenant on the 21st and 23rd floors at the nearby Shanghai World Financial Centre had all its staff tested after an employee was found to be a close contact of a confirmed case, the building management said in a notice last week, without identifying the firm.

Mizuho Financial Group occupies both floors in the building, according to its website. It declined to comment.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2021, with the headline 'Shanghai's financial firms tighten curbs amid virus flare-up'. Subscribe