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New York plans how to return to business amid pandemic

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(Xinhua/Michael Nagle)

AFP – Banks are considering letting some employees keep working from home indefinitely and staggering the shifts of those who do come into the office.

Hotels are trying to figure out a way to let arriving guests go straight to their rooms without signing in at the reception desk.

New York – the financial, cultural and tourism capital of the United States – is gingerly preparing to get back to business after more than a month of coronavirus shutdown.

“’When will we return to work?’ is a question on many people’s minds these days,” said Jane Fraser, the number two official at Citigroup. She has assembled a committee of veteran bankers to come up with conservative scenarios for a return to something resembling normality.

Most Citigroup employees currently work from home, including CEO Michael Corbat.

Like its rivals, Citi has set up market-watching computer terminals for traders at home, although some traders have been sent to especially disinfected facilities to do their jobs. The bank anticipates that some employees will be reluctant to return to work, with no treatment or vaccine yet available for COVID-19. For those employees “we will want to do our best to provide them the flexibility to continue working remotely,” said Fraser.

Financial services represents nearly 10 percent of private sector jobs in the city, which is home of the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and headquarter offices of several large banks. Finance also represents 29 percent of the city’s GDP. At JPMorgan Chase, one of the city’s largest employers, the return to work will be modelled somewhat after how New York’s economy was restarted after the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

“Employees will return to work on-site in a phased approach over a period of time,” read an internal memo. This won praise from Patrick Foye, chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Association, who said that staggered office shifts will reduce congestion and chances of contagion on the city subway, trains and buses.

Having people come in three days a week, as opposed to five, as well as having them stay at least two metres apart, would be helpful measures, Foye told journalists in a recent video conference.

New York is the most densely populated US city, with 11,000 inhabitants per square kilometer.

The epicentre of the US coronavirus pandemic, New York has been through crises before, including the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks and the great recession of 2008.

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