ECB urges banks on emergency plans for virus outbreak

The European Central Bank is asking lenders about their ability to keep functioning in case they’re directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak that’s rippling through the global economy.

The institution’s supervisory arm on Wednesday sent a letter to banks under its remit, asking for staffing plans and the resilience of their IT infrastructure, an ECB spokesman said by phone. The inquiry focuses on the operational impact of the spreading disease and not on the economic fallout, he said.

Lenders across Europe are taking precautions to ensure they can keep operating as the virus spreads. Italy’s UniCredit SpA, headquartered in one of Europe’s most heavily affected areas, is encouraging staff to work from home and is banning non-essential travel as three employees tested positive for the virus. HSBC Holdings Plc had to evacuate parts of its London office after an individual tested positive there.

Global cases from the coronavirus outbreak have topped 95,500 and the death toll rose to 3,285. Shares of European lenders have taken a beating, with the Stoxx 600 Banks Index down more than 20% from last month’s peak.

The ECB itself has also restricted all non-essential travel by members of its executive board and staff and canceled conferences due to the virus. The measures are meant to ensure the safety of employees while “maintaining a fully operational central bank and banking supervision function,” President Christine Lagarde has said./

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