(ATTN: UPDATES 2nd para; ADDS more info in paras 12-13)
By Joo Kyung-don
SEOUL, Feb. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korean companies said Monday they are on full alert to minimize any possible fallout from the novel coronavirus as the potentially fatal illness spreads fast across the country.
South Korea on Sunday raised the virus alert level to "red," the highest in its four-tier system, following a spike in the number of coronavirus infections. The country so far has reported more than 700 confirmed cases, with more than 80 percent of them identified in the last four days.
Most cases occurred in the southeastern city of Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.
Some local firms already reported that they had to temporarily shut down their manufacturing facilities there.
Samsung Electronics Co. said it had to temporarily close its smartphone plant in Gumi, some 45 kilometers north of Daegu, after one of its employees there tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The company shut down the plant over the weekend to complete disinfection work and plans to reopen the manufacturing site later in the day. It instructed employees who made contact with the virus patient to put themselves in self-quarantine for two weeks.
GS Caltex Corp., the country's No. 2 refiner, also had to temporarily shut down its research center in Daejeon over the weekend after one of its employees there was found to have had contact with a new coronavirus patient in Daegu.
The employee later tested negative for COVID-19, but the company had to disinfect its facilities.
SK hynix Inc., South Korea's second-largest chipmaker, last week had to make some 800 workers at its Icheon campus, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul, put themselves in isolation after a new recruit was found to have had contact with a new coronavirus patient.
The employee later tested negative, but the company kept the quarantine measure for the workers.
"It seems that the novel coronavirus is spreading quickly across the country, and if manufacturing sites are contaminated, there will be production and supply disruptions," said an official at a local electronics firm. "We are doing our best with various quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus."
Automakers have been already dealing with production disruption at its domestic plants due to a shortage of wiring harnesses, a key auto component, made in China.
According to Kia Motors Corp., its plant in Gwangju, some 300 kilometers southwest of Seoul, suffered a production disruption of 10,000 vehicles since Feb. 4. before restarting its manufacturing lines Monday.
To protect their employees and manufacturing bases from the virus, LG Group affiliates, including LG Electronics Inc. and LG Display Co., said they have temporarily blocked those who live in Daegu and Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province, from entering their plants.
LG companies also asked all employees to limit domestic business travel, especially to Daegu and North Gyeongsang regions. Employees who had already visited those areas have been ordered to work at home, according to LG.
Samsung Electronics said it has temporarily halted shuttle bus operations between its Gumi and Suwon plants, while ordering its employees to minimize person-to-person meetings.
SK Group, South Korea's third-largest conglomerate, said it is also enforcing beefed-up preventive measures.
To minimize contact with people on rush hour commutes, SK Innovation Co. and SK Telecom Co. said they have allowed their office workers to start work at 10 a.m.
Some SK companies that have a shared-desk system in their workplaces also decided to halt the system for the time being to minimize their workers moving from seat to seat.
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