March 5, 2020 / 7:19 AM / in 5 months

Big tech firms ask Seattle employees to work from home over coronavirus fears

(Reuters) - Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google on Thursday joined Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) in recommending employees in the Seattle area to work from home, after many were infected with the coronavirus in the region.

FILE PHOTO: A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Seattle in Washington state has been most affected by the virus in the United States. Ten people have died out of 39 cases of infections through community transmission of the virus.

A Google spokesperson said the company made the decision after consulting with public health officials.

Seattle-headquartered Amazon recommended employees in the area to work from home through the end of the month, after an employee at its South Lake Union office complex in the city tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Facebook on Thursday said it would shut its Seattle office until March 9 after a contractor at the location was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The companies' work-from-home recommendation will affect more than 100,000 people in the Seattle area, as both Microsoft and Amazon employ over 50,000 each. Facebook employs more than 5,000 in the area and Google about 4,500, according to media reports here.

Seattle health authorities have urged here companies to allow their employees to work from home as much as possible, stagger shifts to ease commuter congestion on public transportation, and avoid large work-related gatherings.

The epidemic has shown no signs of slowing, and so far killed more than 3,000 people worldwide, mostly in China, where it originated in December.

Separately, retailer Walmart Inc (WMT.N) said on Thursday it was restricting all international travels to business-critical trips, and travels within the United States to essential operations for its associates.

It also canceled its U.S. Customer Conference, scheduled for the following week in Dallas .

Walmart said here it expected travel guidelines to be in place for at least the months of March and April.

Big tech companies have also been dropping out of several conferences and calling off corporate events as the virus spreads.

The epidemic has led to the cancellation of major industry events including Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and Facebook’s F8 conference in San Jose.

Microsoft said on Wednesday that some “essential” employees should continue to go to their work locations and that the company would follow government guidelines for disinfecting its sites for essential personnel.

Reporting by Ayanti Bera, Bhargav Acharya and Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Bernard Orr and Shinjini Ganguli

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