March 19, 2020 / 11:49 PM / 19 days ago

Bankers quarantined after Mexico hosts convention despite coronavirus threat

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Many of Mexico’s top banking and financial brass are under quarantine or having to work from home after having attended an annual industry bash at a Pacific getaway last week where at least one participant later tested positive for coronavirus.

In contrast to much of Latin America, Mexico’s government has so far taken a hands-off approach to tackling the fast-spreading virus, letting large-scale events go ahead, including the swanky banking conference in the beach resort of Acapulco and a music festival in Mexico City.

Then a high-ranking official at Mexico’s central bank tested positive after participating in the convention, which was also attended by the president, finance minister and hundreds of senior bankers.

“Citibanamex attendees at the Banking Convention are in quarantine and working from home. None of them have presented any symptoms related to coronavirus,” said a spokesman for Citigroup Inc’s (C.N) Mexican operations Citibanamex.

The Mexican Banking Association (ABM) defended its decision to go ahead with the convention, saying measures had been put in place to safeguard participants’ safety.

In fact, conference organizers set up tables, stocked with hand sanitizers, along hallways, while hostesses offered hand gel and signs detailed the sanitary measures.

But despite calls for social distancing, the convention was a potential hotbed for transmission as Mexicans found it hard to shake the habit of greeting friends, family and even strangers with a handshake, hug or kiss on the cheek.

After the Banco de Mexico statement that one of its high-level officials tested positive for the flu-like virus, the ABM and a significant number of banks instructed those who attended the convention to work remotely for the next 15 days.

HSBC said it sent a small group of people to the convention, and that its executives are now also working from home.

Santander Mexico (SAN.MC) said half its personnel from its corporate offices are working from home, and Grupo Financiero Banorte (GFNORTEO.MX) said that part of its employees were doing the same.

The overall number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Mexico rose by 27% in the 24 hours through Wednesday afternoon to 118 from 93 a day earlier.

The country registered its first death from coronavirus, a 41-year-old diabetic Mexican man whose symptoms began last week, the health ministry said late on Wednesday.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Stephen Coates

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