International firms alert staff to dangers of Asian killer flu

Shearman & Sterling had to close its Hong Kong office for half a day on Monday after discovering that two of the firm’s lawyers were on a plane with a passenger that was later identified with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The office was then closed while the building manager carried out sanitising procedures. The lawyers have not shown any signs of developing the disease.

Other firms have given staff the option of working from home or relocating from the region if necessary, and are advising that non-urgent travel to the region be avoided.

A Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer spokesperson said the firm had relocated a couple of staff who are pregnant or have small children. “We’re monitoring the situation on a daily basis,” she said.

Firms are also taking extra precautions to prevent any possible outbreak of the disease. Richards Butler, for example, is providing free face masks, asking staff to wash their hands with a specially-provided detergent when entering the office, ensuring phones are being wiped down every four hours and making sure that staff who provide tea and coffee wear masks at all times.

“About 75 per cent of people are now wearing face masks,” said Chris House, the managing partner of Richards Butler’s Hong Kong office, although he added that most staff were not bothering to wear them in the office.

Non-essential travelling is also being avoided. A spokesperson for Baker & McKenzie said the firm had advised staff against non-essential travel to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore.