Legal Business Blogs

Coronavirus hits Central Europe as Wolf Theiss partner hospitalised and three staff test positive

The coronavirus epidemic has spread to Austria and hit one of Central Europe’s most prominent law firms, with a partner at Wolf Theiss hospitalised in serious condition and three more employees testing positive to Covid-19.

A spokesperson for Wolf Theiss confirmed that on Thursday last week (27 February) it learned one of its partners had contracted the virus. The firm began testing all its Vienna staff within 24 hours, with more than 200 employees tested on Friday and another 80 on Monday. Three tested positive.

The 72-year-old partner was taken into hospital and was described by Austrian newspaper Die Presse yesterday (3 March) as the only seriously ill patient in the country. The firm did not immediately disclose further details or updates on the partner’s condition.

The other three employees testing positive showed no symptoms of illness and were placed in domestic quarantine while undergoing an official confirmatory test.

The firm was still waiting for the results of some of the 80 tests run on Monday and in the meantime those employees were working from home and had been asked to avoid contact with other employees, clients and courts. The firm also set up a crisis management team and established a medical hotline with an infectiologist in co-ordination with Austrian health authorities.

The firm said in a statement: ‘Due to the immediate testing of our employees, Wolf Theiss is currently the only Austrian company to ensure that contacts to clients, courts and other employees are only made by employees who have been tested negative.’

A number of other firms have taken measures in connection with the spreading coronavirus. The world’s second-highest grossing firm, Latham & Watkins, called off its annual global partnership meeting in New York this week citing safety concerns. Baker McKenzie also shut its London office last Friday after an employee was taken ill with suspected symptoms, reopening on Monday after the employee returned a negative test.

Shearman & Sterling has imposed a travel ban for China and Hong Kong, limiting non-essential travel to contaminated jurisdictions and putting in place remote working measures. Dentons has also temporarily closed its office in Wuhan, where the virus originated.

Fears around the impact of coronavirus on businesses have been mounting in recent weeks, with many concerned it could have financial crisis-level effect on the global economy, and US stock markets suffering their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis last week.