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Coronavirus scare nudges pharmas to scale up telecommuting

People are seen wearing masks at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)
People are seen wearing masks at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)
Multinational pharma firms in South Korea are scaling up the telecommuting options for their employees -- work from home or remote places -- to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, industry sources said Tuesday.

Pharma employees, by the nature of their work, often visit hospitals where they can be exposed to various pathogens.

The Korean offices of MSD, Pfizer, Amgen, Novartis, Astrazeneca, BMS, Sanofi-aventis, AbbVie and UCB as of Tuesday have decided to allow their employees to telecommute to minimize their risk of being infected with the virus.

It is undecided how long this emergency measure will continue, a Sanofi-aventis Korea official said.

Not all multinational pharmas are on the same page, however, and many others are continuing doing business as usual.

However, local pharmas are hesitant to follow suit.

One pharma company official said working from home for him would be the same as taking leave, as the company policy prohibits work-related data from being taken off the premises due to privacy concerns.

Another official said the coronavirus risk is minimal in offices as they are not densely populated and workers are not exposed to unfamiliar people.

All pharmas are supplying their workers with masks and hand sanitizers.

Face-to-face meetings with outsiders are being discouraged for the time being, and any trips to China must be reported to the management.

In Korea, there were 16 confirmed cases of infection with the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday. The patients are confined at Incheon Medical Center, National Medical Center, Myongji Hospital, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, Seoul Medical Center, Wonkwang University Hospital, Armed Forces Capital Hospital and Chonnam National University Hospital. 

By Lim Jeong-yeo (