Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Sogo peeved at SARS allegation

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

Pacific Sogo Department Store officials were enraged yesterday after Taipei City Government health authorities said two Sogo customers may have come down with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) after visiting the store in late April.

Taipei City's Bureau of Health also plans to order Sogo to temporarily close its doors for disinfection if these two cases are diagnosed as SARS.

One Sogo executive yesterday said government officials were too hasty in making the judgment.

"These cases haven't even been confirmed yet," said Lee Kuang-rong (李光榮), Sogo vice president, "but the assumption has ruined Sogo's reputation and therefore our sales."

This is the second time this week Sogo has been in the headlines concerning SARS.

On Monday, 175 store employees were asked to quarantine themselves at home after a Sogo cashier was suspected of having SARS-like symptoms.

The cashier returned to Taipei from a trip to Chiayi on April 28 and came down with a fever on April 30.

She checked into the National Taiwan University Hospital on May 3 and was transferred to Hsinchu Hospital on the following day for further treatment and isolation.

While still at Sogo, the cashier may have passed the virus on to customers at the store, Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑媞), director of Taipei's Bureau of Health, said at a press conference yesterday morning.

Chiu said the bureau received reports on Tuesday that two new suspected cases of SARS -- both visitors to Sogo on April 28 and April 29 -- were admitted to two separate hospitals in Taipei.

Chiu urged all recent visitors to Sogo to be on the alert for a change in their health status.

The news is expected to drag Sogo's business from bad to worse.

"Over the last three days, our sales have dropped by nearly 70 percent," Lee said.

With the public viewing the store as a SARS-infected area, shoppers have obviously disappeared, he added.

The company will accept the government's position on the alleged ties to Sogo if proved true, but if the three cases prove unfounded,"We will definitely sue the government for compensation," he said.

Meanwhile, an attorney with the Consumers' Foundation (消基會) said both companies and the government must be cautious in dealing with SARS cases.

"From the consumer protection point of view, retailers or any service providers are required to provide a safe environment," said Jason Lee (李鳳翱), vice chairman of the foundation.

Therefore, Taipei's Bureau of Health is entitled to alert the public about the Sogo news as stipulated in the Communicable Disease Prevention Law (傳染病防治法) and the Consumer Protection Law (消費者保護法), he said.

"Yet the government too is obliged to conduct careful investigations before making any announcements that may affect the company's reputation," Lee said.

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