09 March 2020

Clayton Utz closes Sydney office over possible coronavirus infection

Pic of Sydney

Clayton Utz's Sydney office has been temporarily closed due to a coronavirus scare

'No cause for alarm' says firm after fears employee may have been indirectly exposed to virus

Australia's Clayton Utz has become the latest law firm to close an office over a possible coronavirus infection.

The firm evacuated its Sydney office on Thursday afternoon and asked staff to work from home after it emerged that a staff member may have been indirectly exposed to the virus. The firm also cancelled a client event taking place that day.

The member of staff is widely reported to be a chef who was married to the granddaughter of a 95-year-old woman who died of the virus on Tuesday.

"We expect to hear tonight if the person has, in fact, been exposed," the firm Tweeted at 3pm Sydney time (see below). "There's no cause for alarm."

As the virus spreads such measures are set to become commonplace for law firms as they seek to respond in a proportionate manner to infections, or suspected infections.

Last week, Baker McKenzie temporarily closed its London office as a precaution in response to a potential infection while Austria's Wolf Theiss tested all of its Vienna-based staff when it emerged that one of its partners, who is critically ill in hospital, had the virus.

In an update issued yesterday, Wolf Theiss said all 296 employees had been tested, three of whom had tested positive and were now self-quarantined.

One of the three infected employees had been in touch with clients over the past four weeks, the firm said, adding that the clients had been informed, as well as a court which one of the employees had visited.

It also emerged yesterday that the wife, son, daughter and several neighbours of a critically ill partner, reported to be from New York trust and estates boutique Lewis and Garbuz, had been infected while New York Law School closed its Manhattan campus after a student reported having had contact with the lawyer.

Meanwhile, in recent days Latham & Watkins, Linklaters and Simmons & Simmons have cancelled partner conferences while firms have also been implementing precautionary measures such as requiring employees returning from badly affected regions to self-isolate.

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