Major firm sends 6000 people home
One of the largest accounting firms in the world, Ernst & Young (EY) is asking its Australian employees to work from home from Wednesday onward to curb the coronavirus spread
The company, which employs almost 6000 people across its Oceania operations, sent text messages to employees saying they should work remotely for a 14-day period, ending March 31.
The move comes after fears a staff member became infected in EY's Brisbane office.
It told staff working on a floor of its Eagle Street office to work from home "until further notice" after an employee reported flu-like symptoms on Wednesday.
The office is near Friday's nightclub where a 22-year-old man, diagnosed last week with COVID-19, attended multiple times last weekend.
It's understood employee went to a the same nightclub at the time the 22-year-old University of Queensland student was also there.
On Friday, the firm said the employee has been tested for COVID-19 and is following all recommended medical advice, including self-quarantine.
The firm also has a huge presence in Sydney, where thousands are employed in its George St headquarters.
The Harbour City is already resembling a ghost town as coronavirus fears keep people indoors.
Eerie photos from yesterday the Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay, Hyde Park and Pitt Street Mall surrounded just a smattering of people.
Another photo shows an empty bus in Martin Place this morning during peak rush hour, as millions of Aussies begin to explore working from home.
EY chief executive Tony Johnson said in a statement this morning, said the coronavirus was unpredictable and affected individuals, communities, and businesses in many ways.
"Across EY we continue to monitor and take advice from experts to ensure we support containment measures that protect the wellbeing of our people, our clients and the community," he said.
He said that from March 15, the company is restricting all international travel, and non-essential domestic travel and repatriating staff who are currently overseas.
However, he added that, so far, no staff members have become infected.
"We understand this can be a time of uncertainty for many of our people and we continue to have procedures and safeguards in place to ensure our people are supported during this period - their safety and wellbeing is our number one priority," he said.
"We are focused on responding to the important short term issues but are also ensuring we stay balanced and maintain a focus on the medium and long term business issues - COVID-19 will pass."
EY's move comes after major corporate law firm King & Wood Mallesons abandoned its central Sydney office towers after revealing "at least one suspected case" of the deadly coronavirus came into contact with their network of employees.
About 600 workers have been forced to stay home until Monday as the space occupied by the top-tier firm at Governor Phillip Tower and Governor Macquarie Tower at 70 Phillip Street undergoes a "hospital grade deep clean".
"We have not taken this decision lightly and have engaged independent expert medical advice through International SOS to help inform our response," KWM chief executive Berkley Cox said in an email to staff early this morning seen by news.com.au.
"We have contacted individuals who we are aware of were in close proximity to the suspected case to notify them of the situation, and as a precaution we have requested them to self-isolate until the pending test results are conclusive.
"More extensive contact tracing is also underway."
Virus fears have also prompted media companies to send staff home.
ViacomCBS, the owner of Network 10, has asked staff to work from home from today for an indefinite period as a precaution against the coronavirus.
Nine last week sent home two presenters and some production staff, and disinfected part of its Willoughby headquarters, after an on-air guest later tested positive to the coronavirus.
At Ten, a "minimal" number of employees will continue to come into the office.
"As a precautionary measure, ViacomCBS has asked that all employees work from home until further notice," a Ten spokesman said.
"The safety and wellbeing of our employees continues to be our number one priority."