Now that Europe instead of China is the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese bankers in London are having second thoughts about their presence in the City. Some are thinking of getting out. Soon.
"A lot of us are contemplating going back to China and risking losing our lives and work here in the UK as we feel the situation here will soon go out of control," says one Chinese FX trader at a European bank in London. "We have witnessed what happened in Wuhan/China and know very well (better than our Western colleagues) how bad this could go without containment measures."
A senior Chinese trader at another bank accused the UK government of underplaying the risks. "Their response has been so mild that the UK public do not have a strong awareness of how serious this issue is. People are living their lives as normal except a little bit of panic supermarket shopping for toilet rolls and hand sanitizer."
It doesn't help that it's culturally unacceptable to wear masks in the UK. Whereas many Chinese and Asians working in finance feel that wearing a mask is imperative, few therefore feel comfortable doing so. "As much as I would like my colleagues to wear masks, I have come to realise the cultural differences and the way the media here portray the effectiveness of masks guarantee that it won't happen," says the FX trader. "I don’t feel comfortable wearing masks in public because of the anti-Asian racism given the virus started back in China," says the senior trader at an Asian bank.
"I wish UK government could put strong control measure or at least stronger suggestion on social distancing and limit mass gatherings," she adds.
Without masks, Asian traders in London say the policy of splitting teams and rotating staff between offices is meaningless. "In Singapore they have rationed masks and asked people to use them mindfully. When teams come into the office, they wear masks and this is how split teams works safely."
There are similar concerns in New York, where one trader at a French bank said the split teams policy is shortsighted. "Those who are infected will just infect others in the office and it will spread like wildfire."
The West is wrong to downplay the virus, say the traders from China. "We have a problem here: people have been too complacent. They are still not fully educated about the virus and we have passed the chance to contain it."
Photo by Milly Vueti on Unsplash
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