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Alert but not alarmed

Alert but not alarmed

Efforts to pre-empt a SARS outbreak in Australia have spilled from government into the private domain as local IT companies start to adjust work practices to try and keep business running as usual.

Although major channel players aren’t anticipating problems with supply at this stage, the industry is keeping a watchful eye on potential disruptions as companies such as HP, Intel and AMD go through office closures in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Canada. Last week, all three insisted their supply chains hadn’t been affected.

While AMD’s sales and administration offices in Hong Kong and Singapore had been closed, with staff working from home, A/NZ country manager, John Robinson, said: “Output has been unaffected.”At least some of the 50 staff were back in offices last week, he said.

Intel’s A/NZ channel marketing manager, Andrew McLean, said SARS hadn’t affected shipments to date with the closure of the Hong Kong office having caused minimal disruption.

“It didn’t affect us as everyone has a laptop, and we used phone conference bridges,” he said.

Two of Intel’s April Developer Forums were cancelled due to SARS travel restrictions, but were being replaced by “other forms of communication,” McLean said.

Meanwhile, HP’s Ontario plant, which had 197 staff and contractors placed under a 10-day quarantine until April 15, managed to keep operating with reduced staff numbers using employees who weren’t exposed to the two suspected SARS victims.

So far, no distributors that ARN spoke to had experienced supply problems.

Express Data channel marketing manager, Greg O’Loan, said the company expected to be shielded from any slowdown in component supply because its business focused on configuration. “We also have a substantial supply of product,” he said.

Similarly, Ingram Micro “hadn’t experienced any disruptions on supply, particularly on the PC and components side,” sales director, David Knight, said.

However, the risk of exposure to SARS has led some IT companies to cap all non-essential travel as a precaution, even beyond SARS affected areas. Memory vendor Kingston Technology has banned non-essential travel unless approved by one of three executives company-wide, according to country manager Keith Hamilton.

O’Loan said while the distributor wasn’t feeling the impact locally, international concerns were having a flow-on effect. “We have experienced conferences being postponed due to SARS and world terrorism risks – not necessarily just in countries close to the issues, but generally worldwide. And vendors have cancelled local conferences due to Asian visitors,” he said.

In Asia, Singapore and Hong Kong have both been hard hit by SARS. According to a new IDC report on IT spending, Singapore has warned that SARS may even affect the country’s growth this year.

“The various economic sectors are certainly linked to each other, hence an impact on the retail, travel, tourism, entertainment and events businesses due to SARS will have an impact on the overall economy and consequently on the IT market,” managing director of IDC Asia-Pacific, Piyush Singh, said in the report.

As ARN went to press, Australia had so far notified the World Health Organisation (WHO) of four probable cases of SARS, all of whom had recovered while a further two people remained under investigation. As of April 23, a cumulative total of 4288 cases had been reported from 25 countries on five continents, with 251 deaths recorded.

NSW Premier, Bob Carr, announced last week that the government had listed SARS as a category 4 medical condition under the Public Health Act, that enables the Department of Health to force people suspected of having SARS to undertake medical testing and treatment, and to be placed in quarantine.

“Hopefully, NSW will not have to use these tough laws, but they are in place to safeguard the health of our community,” Carr said.

WHO last week extended its recommendation against non-essential travel to Beijing and Shanxi province in China, and to Toronto, Canada.

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