INVEST

Singapore companies in Thailand on Mers alert

Commuters under the watchful eye of a security guard in a face mask at a Bangkok train station yesterday. Currently, 59 people are being monitored by the authorities for suspected Mers infection.
Commuters under the watchful eye of a security guard in a face mask at a Bangkok train station yesterday. Currently, 59 people are being monitored by the authorities for suspected Mers infection.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Measures in place to keep staff safe, meet directives

THE arrival of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) in Thailand will have at least a short-term effect on the business environment there, analysts say.

Singapore companies with operations in Thailand are keeping a close watch on the situation.

The Thai health ministry yesterday confirmed the first case of Mers in the country, where 59 people are being monitored for suspected infection.

The development took a toll on the Thai bourse, with the benchmark SET Index closing 1.1 per cent lower yesterday.

TOURISM COULD SUFFER

Even without a major outbreak, we are likely to see some knee-jerk reactions where tourists cancel trips to Thailand. And that might be a problem for Thailand, as the tourism and hospitality sectors are now its few remaining growth drivers.

- Barclays senior regional economist Leong Wai Ho

If Mers spreads in Thailand, its vital tourism sector will bear the brunt of market fears, said Barclays senior regional economist Leong Wai Ho.

"Even without a major outbreak, we are likely to see some knee-jerk reactions where tourists cancel trips to Thailand. And that might be a problem for Thailand, as the tourism and hospitality sectors are now its few remaining growth drivers.

"Fortunately, it will take a lot more than just one case to trigger a full-blown crisis, which I think is unlikely as Mers seems pretty well contained. What we learnt from Sars is that fear dissipates very quickly - I'd be surprised if, three months from now, people still remember Mers."

Even so, Singapore businesses in Thailand are not taking any chances. Companies told The Straits Times they had taken precautions but emphasised they were not overreacting.

Kaya toast chain Ya Kun, which has two outlets in Bangkok under a local franchisee, will pay close attention to Mers directives from the Thai health authorities, said chief operating officer Myca Tan.

"Over and above that, getting our staff to observe personal hygiene, sanitising our equipment and cutlery, and keeping any physically unwell employees out of Ya Kun outlets until they have fully recovered, are some of the measures we will take."

Meanwhile, OCBC is closely monitoring the impact on its full-service branches in Thailand and South Korea - the epicentre of the Mers outbreak - where the death toll hit 24 yesterday.

"So far, we have taken various precautionary measures, which include stocking up on N95 masks and gloves. For our offices in Seoul, we have provided support to some employees whose families were affected by school closures," said Mr Patrick Chew, the bank's operational risk management head.

In the hospitality sector, service apartment operator The Ascott said it was business as usual at its more than 1,800 apartment units in Thailand. Still, it is acutely aware of how Mers could affect its guests as well as its staff.

"Our staff are informed about the symptoms of Mers and trained in preventive measures and steps to take, such as contact tracing, if they come across anyone with such symptoms. Our properties also have personal protection kits with thermometers and masks, and we will ensure our stocks are maintained," said its country general manager for Thailand, Mr Jean Keijdener.

"Our housekeeping team continues to disinfect public areas on our properties' premises daily. We will work with the relevant authorities to implement any further measures."

Hotel group Banyan Tree is keeping tabs on the situation as well, and is ready to respond to advice from the health authorities, a spokesman said. In Thailand, it has six properties with 997 rooms.

whwong@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore companies in Thailand on Mers alert'. Print Edition | Subscribe