Sat, May 03, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Companies spend to stop SARS

PREVENTION MEASURES Taiwan's businesses are struggling to implement means of reassuring customers while simultaneously safeguarding factory production lines

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Businesses are digging deep into their corporate pockets to fund contingency plans against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

"Core Pacific City Mall (京華城) has spent over NT$3 million to install two infrared-heat scanners in the mall to ensure a virus-free environment for shoppers," the mall's president George Hou (侯英堯) said yesterday at a press conference.

In addition to disinfecting buildings, Core Pacific also enhanced its air-conditioning system to recycle air three times a day.

According to public relations manager, Alison Kao (高治華), the shopping mall also laid out over NT$1 million last month to purchase thermometers and masks for both shoppers and employees.

Hou expressed hope that the government would allow businesses to deduct the added expenses from their year-end tax bill.

Customer traffic in Core Pacific saw a sharp 35 percent decline since the outbreak of the disease, but has recently recovered after the mall initiated the safety measures, including temperature tests to prevent the entry of sick shoppers.

A survey conducted by the 1111 Job Bank (1111 人力銀行) yesterday found that nearly 93 percent of polled companies have implemented contingency plans to deal with the disease, including disinfecting work places.

"Thanks to SARS, companies are spending tens of millions of dollars to start their contingency plans," the job bank's spokesman Wayne Shiah (夏瑋) said yesterday.

But that may be a small price to pay for electronics makers, who could suffer losses of over NT$10 million in a single day if they had to shut down their factories to disinfect.

For example, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海精密) -- the nation's largest computer-parts maker -- "spent over 1 million yuan [NT$4.2 million] so far to implement SARS prevention plans for its China-based factories which have over 50,000 employees in addition to its Taipei-based headquarters," according to company spokesman, Edmund Ding (丁祁安).

Hon Hai's plans include regular plant disinfection, employee health checkups weekly and rewards of between 20,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan offered to individuals who report to company authorities when they suspect they may be ill from SARS.

The job bank's survey found that over 40 percent of polled companies experienced revenue drops in the past two months. Among the companies, 40 percent saw a 10 to 20 percent revenue decline and 24 percent saw a 20 to 30 percent decline. A total of 13 percent of respondents said their businesses had declined by 30 to 50 percent.

The telephone survey questioned some 800 listed companies, of which 460 responded.

Nearly 60 percent of the survey's respondents said that the disease might cool "China fever" and nearly 50 percent believed the disease only posed a short-time shock to China-bound investments, while 37 percent insist that they will branch into China regardless of the SARS epidemic there.

The disease has also hit the recreation sector since the government has urged the public to avoid frequenting public places, including gyms.

According to Veronique Chiu (秋佩玉), deputy public relations manager at the Youth-camp Health Group (佳姿健身集團), attendance at the club's 20 gyms is down over customer fears of contracting the disease.

To attract gym-goers, the group plans to spend NT$2.75 million on not only masks and thermometers, but also complimentary herbal tea and sea salt, which they claim can enhance health.

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