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Wed, Feb 11, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Panasonic orders families to return home on flu fears


Panasonic Corp said yesterday it had ordered families of its Japanese overseas employees to return home from emerging countries that the company believes may be at risk of an influenza pandemic.

The employees will stay, but families of those working in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and South America were ordered in December to return to Japan by the end of September, spokesman Akira Kadota said.

The Osaka-based company is not disclosing the number of the affected families or the employees.

Panasonic, the world’s biggest maker of plasma TVs, last week said it was cutting 15,000 employees from its work force over the next year and forecast its first annual net loss in six years.

Kadota denied the move to bring families home was related to cost-cutting. He said the company had been studying the risks from bird flu for some time and called the order “proactive.”

“It would be very difficult to quickly return home should a pandemic strike,” he said.

Bird flu remains hard for people to catch, but health experts worry it could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans, possibly triggering a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.

The H5N1 strain has killed at least 254 people worldwide since 2003, most through contact with sick birds.

Panasonic has 200 affiliated companies overseas, about 70 in China, and 70 more in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.

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