Financial Regulators Start Contingency Planning as Virus Reaches Washington

U.S. financial regulators are preparing contingency arrangements, including travel restrictions and home-working, to ensure they can effectively oversee the financial markets as the coronavirus closes in on the U.S. capital, Reuters writes.

On Friday, U.S. officials said the first three cases of the flu-like disease had been diagnosed in Montgomery County, Maryland, home to thousands of federal workers who travel in to offices in nearby Washington daily.

Agencies including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the banking regulators also have offices in New York, San Francisco and New Jersey where other cases have been reported.

As New York banks start triggering their contingency plans, their watchdogs have also begun to take precautions, allowing more home-working, cancelling and limiting travel, calling off conferences, and restricting some external meetings.

“The safety and health of CFTC employees is our top priority,” Michael Short, director of public affairs at the agency, said on Friday. “The CFTC continues to make all necessary preparations to accommodate scenarios that might arise.”

The derivatives watchdog has canceled some foreign travel and is allowing essential overseas trips on a case-by-case basis, he said. Domestic travel is still permitted, but staff are free to reschedule trips unless it is mission-critical.

Likewise, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said it had taken steps to limit non-essential international travel. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) said it had reviewed its contingency plans, without elaborating.

On Thursday, the OCC along with the Federal Reserve and the FDIC canceled a joint conference on fair lending scheduled for next week “out of an abundance of caution,” they said.

Reuters also reported on Friday that the U.S. Federal Reserve had taken the unusual step of quarantining U.S. dollars it receives from Asia for up to 10 days.

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