BOSTON (Reuters) – Asset management giant Fidelity Investments on Monday said it has paused voluntary return-to-office plans for employees in New England, in a further sign that rising COVID-19 cases and the new Omicron variant could scuttle corporate America’s bid to get back to business as usual.
The family-controlled company, headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, has paused pilot return-to-office programs at its offices in Boston, Smithfield, Rhode Island, and Merrimack, New Hampshire “due to rising COVID risk scores,” spokesman Michael Aalto said.
COVID cases in Massachusetts jumped this month to their highest level since January.
Several hundred people had been going in to those locations. Voluntary pilots representing thousands of employees are still under way at other locations around the United States, he said.
U.S. financial firms have been more proactive than other industries in encouraging employees back to return to offices, but those plans have come under renewed scrutiny as cases have ticked up and the Omicron variant has spread swiftly.
Last week Wall Street investment bank Jefferies sent staff home and canceled client parties and all but essential travel after the firm experienced nearly 40 new COVID-19 cases.
Daily cases in New York City have surged this month and hospitalizations are at their highest level since April, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the Delta variant is still dominant in the United States, Omicron has been detected in many U.S. states including New York and has been reported in more than 60 countries.
At least one person has died in the United Kingdom after contracting Omicron, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, the first publicly confirmed death globally from the new strain.
In London, major investment banks have advised most staff to work from home as of Monday in line with Britain’s tighter restrictions but said their offices will remain open.
The shift represented a switch for many firms in Europe’s largest financial capital as, until last week, most were encouraging staff back into the office.
“We expect a reduction in the amount of people coming into our offices, but our buildings will continue to be accessible to all employees who need to come in,” JPMorgan said in a memo to UK staff late last week.
Goldman Sachs International chief executive Richard Gnodde said in a memo on Friday that all UK staff who could work from home “effectively” should do so, but added its offices in London and Birmingham would remain open to anyone who needed to be there.
Deutsche Bank has said that staff numbers in London will be significantly reduced from Monday, though employees with certain roles such as traders or those with personal reasons can still go in. It also discouraged staff from taking part in social gatherings.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller)