January 27, 2023

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China’s banks are pushing traders back into offices amid Covid

SOME Chinese financial institutions are pushing staff back into the office as the increasing absence of traders and other key personnel over the past week amid the country’s massive Covid-19 outbreak begins to disrupt operations.

Sinolink Securities Co. is asking employees who have been ill or in home quarantine for seven days to return to work if they no longer show Covid symptoms, while those whose family members have been infected but have not tested positive themselves are also asking from the office should be working on a memo that Bloomberg saw. The unusually low attendance rate has presented significant challenges to operations, the broker added.

The Shanghai-based media representative for Sinolink said in a written response the company remains focused on areas such as employee well-being, workplace safety and business continuity.

A fund management company dropped an earlier requirement over the weekend that employees could only return to the office with a negative Covid test result within 72 hours, a person with knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified to discuss private information . Department heads have been instructed to retain as many people as necessary to ensure business continuity, the person said.

At least two wealth managers are making a rare compromise by allowing Covid-infected traders to trade remotely for the first time, people familiar with the matter said. The companies are requiring workers on sick leave to install surveillance cameras at home so all their transactions can be monitored if they are healthy enough to work, people familiar with the matter said.

The effort comes at a time when Covid infections, estimated by the country’s top health agency last week at nearly 37 million in a single day, are pushing economic activity off a cliff. Beijing’s rapid dismantling of Covid-Zero restrictions has allowed the highly contagious Omicron variant to spread unchecked in a population with low natural immunity.

The disruptions are so sudden and intolerable that cities like the western metropolis of Chongqing and those in the eastern manufacturing hub of Zhejiang province have told workers with mild symptoms to get back to work.

Some Chinese banks activated back-up plans two weeks ago to deal with a sudden surge in sick staff numbers, which in some cases had led to a drop in onshore yuan-dollar spot volume.

But even for those in Shanghai who have been well-trained on how to deal with Covid during a grueling two-month lockdown earlier this year, the latest outbreak is more disruptive than expected. At a bank’s trading desk, nearly 80 percent of traders were either ill or working from home, making previous arrangements like split teams or having trades routed through office staff nearly impossible, one of the people said. Bloomberg News