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UOB shuts select bank locations in China amid virus outbreak; Singapore financial centre on alert

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UOB's latest move comes as well as on Sunday, Singapore's central bank asked financial institutions in the Republic to take additional measures and precautions.

UNITED Overseas Bank (UOB) has closed two banking outlets in Shanghai and Beijing, and separately shut its commercial banking centre in Kwun Tong, Hong Kong until Feb 14 as precautionary measures against the novel coronavirus outbreak, the lender said in a press statement on Monday.

A small number of colleagues remain in its office in mainland China to "support critical business and customer services", UOB said, highlighting that it does not have operations in Hubei. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, UOB will continue to offer commercial banking services via its commercial banking centres in Kowloon and Causeway Bay, though it has closed the centre in Kwun Tong till Feb 14.

UOB's latest move comes after other banks including OCBC Wing Hang Bank, Standard Chartered and HSBC have similarly announced the suspension of branches or services in Hong Kong and Macau since end January.

This comes as well as on Sunday, Singapore's central bank asked financial institutions here to take additional measures and precautions after the government raised the alert level on the novel coronavirus outbreak to Dorscon Orange. The caution reflects the realities of Singapore being a large financial centre where several regional and local banks are based and clustered along Shenton Way.

Two circulars as seen by The Business Times showed that there has been a confirmed case of an employee of one of the tenants at Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC) having contracted the virus. Standard Chartered is a key tenant at MBFC Tower 1, while DBS is a key tenant at MBFC Tower 3, though the towers also house other financial institutions and large corporates.

In a media statement from Raffles Quay Asset Management (RQAM) sent on Tuesday morning, RQAM confirmed that the tenant of this employee is housed at MBFC Tower 1. The employee had contracted the virus on Feb 8. "The affected office space, lifts and ground floor common area have been deep cleaned and disinfected in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines," a spokesman said.

In a media statement, StanChart said the bank will continue to monitor the situation very closely in Singapore, while declining to comment on the specific case at MBFC. "Our priority is the health and safety of all our employees and clients while minimising service disruptions. We have a well-established business continuity plan," said a StanChart spokesman. This includes activated temperature screening at branches and office buildings, as well as increased frequency of daily sanitisation at all branches and office premises daily.

Over at Clifford Centre, an employee of United Industrial Corporation (UIC) - located on the 11th level - was also confirmed to have been infected with the virus. This separate circular, dated Feb 7, said the last day the patient was on the premises was on Jan 23. No other UIC employee displayed any related symptoms as at the time of the circular. The building has been disinfected.

As is done at most offices and business outlets now, employees and visitors at banking premises must also declare their travel history.

In Singapore, UOB has stopped large-scale internal meetings such as training, seminars and workshops. Large-scale public gatherings such as roadshows and major customer events have also been postponed, and the bank is restricting all overseas business travel at this point in time. Business continuity plans for all critical functions and services have been activated, and employees will be working from split sites, from home and on split shifts.

Added UOB: "While our branches (in Singapore) remain open, we would ask customers who are feeling unwell, have been put on a leave of absence, or are serving a home quarantine order not to come to our branches at this time. We will also have to ask those who have been to mainland China in the last 14 days to reschedule their visit to our branches."

Customers are still able to use their mobile, phone and Internet banking options to conduct their banking, UOB said.

As for DBS, a spokesperson said that the bank has put in place precautionary measures, which include temperature screening at all its office buildings and higher frequency in the cleaning and disinfection of its premises.

Visitors are required to sign a health and travel history declaration form prior to entering, while face masks will be distributed to front-line officers.

As for operations, business continuity plans have also been activated, with employees working from home or from split sites.

"In addition, we are sending out regular notices to remind all employees to remain vigilant and adopt good personal hygiene and awareness of their surroundings," added the DBS spokesperson.

MAS said on Sunday that financial institutions should anticipate and be prepared to manage any increase in demand for certain financial services - such as cash withdrawal or online financial services - and inform customers promptly of the availability of services and operating hours.

"MAS has also reminded financial institutions that they should remain vigilant on the cyber security front as there have been cases of cyber threat actors taking advantage of the 2019-nCoV situation to conduct email scams, phishing and ransomware attacks."

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