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Attendee of World’s Top Buyout Event Contracts Coronavirus

Sarah Syed and Benjamin Robertson

(Bloomberg) --

A Berlin private equity conference last month that attracts thousands of financiers -- including billionaire buyout heavyweights Leon Black and Stephen Schwarzman -- was also attended by a person who has since tested positive for the coronavirus, people familiar with the matter said.

An employee of 17Capital tested positive after returning from the SuperReturn International event, which ran from Feb. 25 to 28, according to the people. It wasn’t immediately clear when the ailment was contracted, and some people can be infected for days without knowing it.

The individual wasn’t showing symptoms while at the conference, one person said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. London-based 17Capital said a “small number” of staff are working from home in self-isolation as a result of the incident.

“A member of the team did contract Covid-19, and has since made a full recovery,” 17Capital, which finances private equity firms and their portfolio companies, said in a statement. “As soon as symptoms showed, we liaised with Public Health England and followed all recommended measures to protect our people and our business partners.”

No-Shows

SuperReturn, an annual event organized by a division of Informa Plc, was one of the last major finance conferences to go ahead as the virus began to spread across Europe. While the event planned for 3,000 attendees, many investors from Italy and East Asia stayed home and a few big-name guests didn’t turn up.

The coronavirus has infected at least 120,000 people and killed more than 4,700 globally. Stocks have plummeted and some credit markets have seized up as economies grind to a halt and businesses send workers home.

SuperReturn “was run in full accordance with the preventative measures recommended by global health and local government authorities, which included enhanced hygiene practices and guidance to attendees on the personal precautions to take,” said Dorothy Kelso, global head of the event.

German health minister Jens Spahn recommended Sunday postponing events with more than 1,000 participants. In an interview with news agency DPA, he said the goal would be to slow the spread of the virus so the health-care system can cope better. Some conferences -- including the ITB travel industry trade show in Berlin, which attracts more than 160,000 participants -- were already cancelled before Spahn’s comments.

KKR Closure

Other private equity firms have not been immune from the contagion in Europe. An employee at KKR & Co. in London contracted the coronavirus, prompting the investment firm to temporarily close both of its offices in the city this month.

On Wall Street, some of the biggest banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are staggering their employees’ visits to the office to slow the spread of the virus.

Buyout firms have been taking precautions to protect their investments as economic activity slows. Blackstone Group Inc. and Carlyle Group Inc. have told some portfolio firms to draw down bank credit lines to help prevent any liquidity shortfalls amid signs of mounting stress in markets, Bloomberg News reported this week.

(Adds detail on virus impact from eighth paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Sarah Syed in London at ssyed35@bloomberg.net;Benjamin Robertson in london at brobertson29@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Dinesh Nair at dnair5@bloomberg.net, ;Shelley Robinson at ssmith118@bloomberg.net, Ben Scent, Ross Larsen

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