Businesses in Korea step up MERS prevention

Businesses in Korea step up MERS prevention
PHOTO: AFP

As South Korea continues to remain on high alert over the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, the nation's leading manufacturers, including Samsung, Hyundai and LG, have stepped up their efforts to curb the spread of the virus across their production sites.

Companies from the automobile to semiconductors sectors have been taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of MERS, given that their business is heavily dependent on a close network of factory workers operating the production lines.

Particularly after one worker from Ssangyong Motor was diagnosed with MERS earlier this month, many firms have swiftly implemented new measures to prevent the virus from infiltrating their production sites.

In line with orders from its group chairman Chung Mong-koo, Hyundai Motor launched a set of new emergency measures last week to systematically detect and prevent MERS across the company.

Such efforts include distributing masks and hand sanitizers, canceling large gatherings, regularly disinfecting the work sites as well as installing thermographic cameras across the company's headquarters, major offices and factories.

"Ensuring that our employees, particularly our factory workers, are healthy is an important concern for Hyundai Motor," said the company's spokesperson.

"Our factories function according to a 'conveyor system,' meaning that each worker plays a critical role in the production process. Even with just one or two employees missing, the entire production line could effectively shut down," he said.

Moreover, Hyundai Motor employees who report MERS symptoms are mandated to stay at home. The company is also actively encouraging those with children to take a leave of absence, if their child's school has closed down due to MERS.

At Samsung Electronics, employees have been "discouraged from traveling to the Middle East while those currently working in the region have been asked to refrain from returning to Korea for the time being," according to a company spokesperson.

Moreover, various company events have been cancelled, while employees at the electronic firm's work sites must check their temperature twice a day for fever.

Similar efforts are also ongoing at firms which are particularly vulnerable to the MERS outbreak across their work sites, including Korea's No. 1 steelmaker POSCO ― which is discouraging trips to the Middle East and educating employees on MERS response guidelines.

Korea's semiconductor producers including LG Innotek ― LG's battery and camera module producer ― as well as SK hynix ― SK's chip-producing unit ― remain on high alert as well, implementing daily preventive policies and taking safety precautions.

Meanwhile, MERS has already taken a toll on the Korean retail industry, as consumers are avoiding crowded spaces including big supermarkets, local markets, shopping malls and city centres and in turn, spending less.

To ease public concerns, department stores and supermarkets have been stepping up sanitation efforts and abiding by the government's request to cancel events that would attract large crowds,

Joining a number of Korean retail giants which had to cancel their scheduled promotional events, global home furnishing giant Ikea indefinitely postponed a big sales event that had been set to take place last weekend.

"In line with Gwangmyeong City's recommendation, we have decided to indefinitely postpone our sales event, which would have attracted a large crowd," an Ikea official said.

Amid growing concerns over a downswing in consumer and investor sentiment, Korea's major business groups pledged last Thursday to "co-operate with the government to ensure that industrial activity remains active," urging citizens to "shed their unfounded anxiety over MERS and resume their economic activities normally."

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