World News

High-fives, hugs, kisses discouraged as U.S. companies respond to growing coronavirus threat

By Helen Coster

(Reuters) – As news broke of more cases of coronavirus spreading across the United States, T-Mobile had a novel response to the threat: fewer hugs, kisses or high-fives.

The Bellevue, Washington-based wireless provider is “encouraging personal distancing at work” – and has “all sorts of sanitation products readily available,” according to the company <TMUS.O>.

Elsewhere, U.S. companies are embracing new ways to protect their employees. Hollywood executives are reconsidering red carpet premiers; CNN head Jeff Zucker is personally reviewing intercontinental travel.

Facebook Inc <FB.O> is going so far as to take the “social” out of social media and has banned non-business visitors to its offices.

Across the U.S. business landscape, companies from AT&T Inc <T.N> to Home Depot Inc <HD.N> are scrambling to manage the risk of a virus that only a week ago was isolated to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea and has now spread to 53 countries.

Major tech companies are pulling out of big industry events. Twitter Inc <TWTR.N>, which late Monday strongly encouraged employees to work from home, also said its Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey will no longer appear at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas later this month. By Monday evening, Facebook announced it will not attend the event.

Others are cancelling their own conferences. Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> Google on Monday scrapped its biggest conference for cloud computing customers, scheduled for next month in San Francisco, following the cancellation last Friday of two other events.

Facebook last week shelved its annual developer conference and has also restricted travel to China, South Korea and Italy.

The Menlo Park, Calif. social media giant went one step further and discouraged all gatherings of more than 50 attendees. Job candidates shouldn’t bother showing up at the office. Interviews are being rescheduled as video conferences where possible, according to one source familiar with the plans.

In addition to banning travel to and from Asia and Italy, Home Depot also implemented a 14-day stay-at-home policy for employees who have returned from those regions within the past two weeks.

On Wall Street, at least two major banks are testing technologies and compliance systems in preparation for employees who may be asked to work from home or off-site locations in coming weeks.

In Hollywood, the coronavirus threat has already affected how films are being made and who gets to see them. Movie producers are being forced to delay film releases in China and parts of Italy where movie theaters are closed, and are looking at relocating movie shoots in areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases.

ViacomCBS Inc’s <VIACA.O> Paramount Pictures postponed a three-week-long shoot in Italy for Tom Cruise’s next “Mission Impossible” film. And Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> executives are waiting to see when theaters will reopen in China so they can release “Mulan,” an action epic about a Chinese heroine that is scheduled to hit other countries on March 27 and was expected to be the entertainment giant’s first billion-dollar box office hit of the year.

(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford and Paresh Dave in San Francisco, Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles, and Arriana McLymore, Sheila Dang and Elizabeth Dilts Marshall in New York; Editing by Kenneth Li and Christopher Cushing)