Taiwan tech firms begin bird flu precautions

By : |September 30, 2005 0

TAIPEI: Stung by the SARS outbreak two years ago, some of Taiwan’s top technology firms are beginning to take precautions against bird flu in case the virus evolves into an even deadlier form and threatens operations.

Taking a page from the measures adopted against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, electronics firms said an outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu in China could have serious consequences on their factories there.

Taiwan’s top mobile phone maker, BenQ Corp., is advising its China employees to avoid crowded places and watch hygiene during the week-long National Day holiday beginning on Oct. 1.

“Employees will go back home to the countryside and come in contact with many people and this could be a risk,” said Tony Tong, BenQ’s senior vice president in charge of human resources.

“So we are telling them to be careful, and not to come into contact with dirty things and whatnot. If they feel sick, they should see a doctor quickly,” he said.

“If the disease becomes transmittable from person to person, the consequences could be very serious,” Tong said.

The H5N1 virus has devastated flocks of poultry and killed 65 people in four Asian nations since 2003.

The United Nations said on Thursday that it could kill as many as 150 million people if the world fails to prepare for an expected mutation in the virus, which would enable it to easily spread from human to human.

While Taiwan has not recorded any cases of the H5N1 strain, the island slaughtered over 400,000 fowl in 2004 after discovering the less virulent H5N2 strain.

The SARS virus had travelled quickly to Taiwan from China as thousands of travellers shuttle between the two sides each day.

Top contract microchip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) has set up a committee that will act as a command center in case of a bird flu outbreak.

“We feel that bird flu may become an issue so we have taken some pre-emptive actions,” said J.H. Tzeng, TSMC’s acting spokesman. “We have a group that is studying this and drawing up counter-measures, although there is no need to initiate them right now,” he said.

Lite-On Technology Corp, a top manufacturer of computer peripherals, said executives were discussing bird flu at meetings and preparing to issue a letter to employees, though the company had not decided on a course of action.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Taiwan technology firms took measures such as daily temperature checks, separating workers into two teams that never come in contact with each other, and requiring employees to wear masks to meetings.

SARS quickly spread from southern China and was carried around the world by air travelers. Over 8,000 people were infected, of which more than 750 died, including 37 in Taiwan.

The island’s economy in the third quarter of 2003 shrank 0.1 percent from a year ago as consumers avoided public places.

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