March 12, 2020 / 3:11 PM / a month ago

ECB divides up teams over coronavirus concern

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Central Bank was a largely deserted building on Thursday as President Christine Lagarde presented her policy response to the coronavirus outbreak that is hitting the euro zone economy.

Most of the ECB’s staff had either opted to work from home, or been told to do so, after an employee tested positive for the virus this week. The institution was taking steps to stop the contagion and keep its business running even during a pandemic.

Lagarde said the ECB would now also split its teams, starting with her and her deputy, Luis de Guindos, who was sitting next to her at the ECB’s regular news conference.

“Unless the situation develops very rapidly for the better, it is unlikely you will see both of us at the next press conference as we are working to split teams, including at the executive board level,” Lagarde told a sparsely populated press room.

She said some members of the ECB’s Governing Council, which includes the six members of the board and the euro zone’s 19 national central bank governors, dialed in for Thursday’s meeting.

The next, scheduled for April 1, would be held entirely online, she said.

Lagarde has also encouraged all staff to work from home unless they have a strong reason to come to the office after a successful trial run on Monday.

The European School in Frankfurt used by ECB employees will be shut from this coming Monday.

Reporting by Francesco Canepa and Tom Sims; Writing by Jonathan Cable in London; Editing by Toby Chopra and Timothy Heritage

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