Many Swiss multinationals have adopted policies to prevent workers in Asia from contracting or spreading the coronavirus. Now they are applying these restrictions closer to home as the disease gains ground in Europe.
Engineering firm ABB has banned business travel to Lombardy and Veneto, two regions of Italy that have been hard hit by the epidemic. Employees returning from those areas are urged to work from home for 14 days.
Likewise, Swiss Re said it has told employees traveling to northern Italy to “strongly consider whether the trip is absolutely necessary.” And the reinsurance company has added Milan to a long list of Asia cities where employees are recommended to work from home.
Food giant Nestlé, which employs about 291,000 people, has suspended all business trips worldwide until March 15, a spokesperson said Wednesday.
Outbreak in Europe worsens
These companies are reacting to an outbreak that, in just a few weeks, has killed more than 2,700 people while infecting about 80,000. In Europe, Italy has been hardest hit more than 320 cases and 12 deaths.
On Tuesday, Switzerland reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus—a 70-year-old man who had recently traveled to the Milan area. Dozens of other people are being tested with many coming from Bern and Basel.
Businesses roll out coronavirus plan
“One of the major mistakes is, as you can imagine, not to be prepared, not to have a plan, not to test the plan. Because for all these things, you need time,” said Jeff Primus, CEO of consulting firm ACTAGIS.
Swiss Life said it would try mitigate any disruptions in its main markets—Switzerland, France, and Germany—by having people telecommute.
“We have informed our employees about the recent developments and have reemphasized the importance of the individual health precaution measures, also in interaction with clients,” the company said in a statement. “This also includes a recommendation that business meetings should preferably be conducted by phone or video conference when possible.”
Syngenta, the Chinese-owned supplier of pesticides and seeds, said it has put in place a special approval-and-risk-avoidance process for essential travel from virus-hit areas.
Many companies say they have either activated or created crisis teams to stay on top of developments and coordinate actions against the fast-moving virus. Migros Group, Switzerland’s largest employer with over 106,000 people, is working on solutions forexpected problems in global logistics.
A recent surge in global demand for ingredients used in food and medicine has raised concerns that drugmakers may face a shortage. Novartis said it’s confident that it has enough stock for now.
ABB is among a growing number of Swiss companies warning that the epidemic could hurt their business in the short term. Its factories were closed for a week this month, and operations still haven’t returned to normal.
“While this impact is not quantifiable at the moment, we are supporting our employees, and ABB remains prepared for any scenario,” the company said.
Coronavirus fuels record sales of computer screens
Screens and other office supplies are in great demand these days as the coronavirus forces people to work from home. Digitec Galaxus is among retailers who say they are seeing record-breaking sales of some items.
Start-ups struggle to survive coronavirus
Cash-strapped start-ups that manage to stay afloat in the coming months may struggle to survive the economic aftermath of the coronavirus, says Jordi Montserrat, co-founder of Venturelab, a group that supports entrepreneurs in Switzerland. He predicts that investors will reconsider some existing projects and hold off funding for new ones.
Will hotel industry be gutted by coronavirus?
Hotels are especially exposed to the effects of coronavirus, from the spate of recent cancellations to travelers not even booking because of the current uncertainty. Ari Andricopoulos, the CEO of RoomPriceGenie, a company that helps small and medium-sized hotels price their rooms, is already feeling the pinch. “Hotel owners are fearing the worst at this stage,” he says. “There’s a good spirit of solidarity in the hotel industry, but I think we all know it’s not a good time.”
Why you can’t trust coronavirus counts
At least 613 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Switzerland, but that number isn’t a reliable measure of the outbreak. The Swiss government is abandoning efforts to keep a precise count of coronavirus cases to focus instead on easing the burden on the healthcare system and protecting the most vulnerable—the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. “The government has decided that they will only test people who are at risk, who have strong symptoms,” said Michael Hengartner, president of the ETH Board. “Young people, who might have weak symptoms, will simply be asked to stay at home to minimize contagion.” The Cantonal Hospital of Lucerne has received a recommendation from the government to limit testing to the most vulnerable or severe cases, said spokesman Markus von Rotz. “Only patients who are hospitalized and health care staff will be tested for coronavirus,” said Claude Kaufmann, a spokesman for Hirslanden Private Hospital Group, which operates 17 hospitals. “Patients with fever and cough must stay at home so that they do not infect anyone.” The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health confirmed that the cases could be far higher than reported and that “people at especially high risk are tested as a priority.“ No test, no infection This raises the question of whether the count reflects the true scale of the outbreak. Many people have been keeping tabs on the daily tally from the federal health office, relying on it to provide a measure of the severity of the situation in Switzerland. The country reported its third coronavirus death Tuesday as the outbreak worsens in neighboring Italy, which has logged over 9,000 infections and 460 deaths. It also marks a change in strategy from the early days of the outbreak, when the government ramped up testing following the first confirmed case on Feb. 25. Back then, even mild cases were being counted and traced in the effort to contain the crisis. The Swiss Federal Council said Friday that tracing the infection would continue “as long as possible.” At the same time, it indicated that protecting people by minimizing contact—at work or social events—was now the bigger priority. Large events have been banned across the country but, unlike in Italy, no blanket travel restrictions have been imposed. And the Swiss border remains open to commuters from Italy. “With the infection rate that this virus has, it will basically cross across the human population,” Hengartner said. “It will become a pandemic. And the challenge for governments is to keep the infection rate low enough that we can always manage the patients that need to get hospitalized.”
Coronavirus shuts down Italy but Swiss border remains open
Despite a nationwide shutdown in Italy, cross-border workers are still welcome in Switzerland. CNNMoney Switzerland reports from Chiasso as the number of cases of the virus continues to grow.
Swiss border open for business
The 68,000 Italians employed in Switzerland are vital to the economy, says the president of AITI, the industry association of Ticino, which explains why the Swiss border remains open despite the lockdown in neighboring Italy.
World is losing battle to contain coronavirus, says president of ETH Board
Countries including Switzerland are abandoning efforts to keep a precise count of coronavirus cases and are focusing instead on helping hospitals cope with patient overload, says Michael Hengartner, president of the ETH Board and chairman of the Executive Committee. With a pandemic inevitable, the challenge now is to “keep the infection rate low enough that we can always manage patients that need to get hospitalized.”
COVID-19 may tip world into financial crisis, UN warns
The world is vulnerable to a financial crisis if the coronavirus epidemic drags on because it is already so deep in debt, the United Nation’s trade body warned in a report on Monday. An enduring health emergency will likely trigger margin calls, tighten borrowing conditions, and increase the risk of a stampede to sell assets not hit in the first round of market turmoil, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said. “This raises the prospect of a credit crunch in a period of high indebtedness,” despite very low interest rates, the report says. Hopes of a recovery will hinge on sustained and coordinated liquidity injections by central banks, more active fiscal policies, and renewed efforts to bolster trade. “Central banks should do whatever it takes in the face of the COVID-19, including directing credit for production and employment,” UNCTAD said. The world has been on a borrowing binge since the 2008 meltdown, when central banks pumped vast sums into cash-strapped markets and banks to shore up the system. At the start of 2020, total debt stocks exceeded more than $250 trillion, about three times global gross domestic product, according to the Institute of International Finance. Developing countries most at risk Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to a credit crunch, as many are already struggling with the highest debt levels on record. “For many developing countries that are facing debt distress already, I think we’re going to have to look at more radical solutions,” Richard Kozul-Wright, who oversees globalization and development strategies at UNCTAD, said in an interview Monday with CNNMoney’s Kasmira Jefford. “The need for a moratorium on debt servicing in some countries will also be necessary.” Economists have warned for years that such massive debt is a risk for the global economy. Record-low interest rates in countries around the globe have made it easier and cheaper for corporates, individuals, and governments to borrow. Last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve, which cut rates three times last year, slashed them by half a percentage point in response to the economic threat from COVID-19. The European Central Bank meets this week, and markets are pricing in a much smaller cut, given that rates are already in negative territory. There is also speculation that the ECB is preparing measures to provide liquidity to businesses hit by the outbreak.
More women in Swiss boardrooms
The percentage of women on the executive boards of Switzerland’s 100 largest employers has edged up to reach 10% for the first time, according to executive search firm Schilling Partners. When taking into consideration a broader boardroom study by Deloitte, that figure rises above the global average to just under 19%.