SWISS MULTINATIONALS MOUNT DEFENSE AGAINST CORONAVIRUS

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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.

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