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Danske Bank plan for coronavirus escalation in Northern Ireland

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South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at railway station

South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at railway station

YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images

South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at railway station

Danske Bank has said it is making sure that it has plans ready for an escalation of coronavirus.

The bank is among many firms in Northern Ireland putting steps in place to contain the potential spread of the disease.

The Government is today due to release a 'battle plan' following a meeting of its emergency Cobra committee yesterday.

And Professor Paul Cosford of Public Health England (PHE) said that after new cases brought the number of people in the UK with the virus to 39, its further spread was "highly likely".

Danske Bank is one of Northern Ireland's major private sector employers, with 1,400 staff.

It said: "We are committed to protecting the health and well-being of our staff, while also ensuring that our operations continue to support our personal and business customers.

"We have been engaging with UK Finance, and reviewing the most up to date guidance issued by the UK Government, to ensure that we have workable solutions which can be invoked in the event that the situation escalates.

"Regarding travel policy, we have communicated to colleagues they should not engage in business travel to high risk areas, which are detailed on the gov.uk website. We have also committed to update employees regularly, should UK Government guidance change."

Ann McGregor, NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive, urged businesses with Asian exporting links to mitigate financial risk following a suspension in deliveries to ports there.

She said: "Agents in the area have informed several local food businesses that delivery has been suspended for a number of weeks due to the unavailability of reefers. This is because when they get to the Asian ports, they are already full and there is nowhere to plug in the reefers to keep cargo refrigerated.

"Companies should consider the potential impact that the coronavirus could have on their operations and cash flow, and act now to mitigate risks."

Pamela Dennison of furniture logistics firm WS Dennison said: "We have a small number of containers that arrive from China and Italy and we are anticipating delays or cancellations on these."

Invest NI said it was consulting with firms with active business in China to gather information adding that it would "monitor the situation as it unfolds".

Meanwhile, Ryanair has notified passengers that it is reducing its short haul flight programme, mainly to and from Italy, by up to 25%.

The airline said the reduction will be in place between March 17 and April 8, saying it had been prompted by "a significant drop in bookings over that late March/early April period" as well as passenger no-shows.

Lee Collinson, head of manufacturing at Barclays, said that while there had been growing confidence among UK manufacturers and consumers earlier this year, coronavirus "looms menacingly".

And US law firm Baker McKenzie, which has a Belfast office, asked its 1,100-strong workforce in London to work from home last Friday as one worker fell ill following a trip to Italy. The individual has since tested negative.

A spokeswoman at its Belfast office said: "We are continuing to monitor the situation and are restricting non-essential travel."

Breda Cullen, an employment law and human resources consultant at HR Team Services in Northern Ireland, advised employers to be prepared.

"The reality is that if the virus spreads in Ireland, it could pose a significant threat to operations within organisations," she said.

"It is important at this time that employers have a robust contingency plan in place."

Colin Neill, the chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, the trade body for licensed venues' chief executive, said it too has issued guidelines to members.

"The guidance we have issued will be updated as the situation develops and we are continually urging our own members to keep checking official advice and guidance on the Public Health Agency website which is being updated regularly," he said.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that the outbreak shows how susceptible the economy is to events outside its control. "We never had this with the Sars outbreak because China accounted for just 6% of the global economy then but now that's more than doubled and now we'll start to see that domino effect," he said.

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