TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Foxconn, a key supplier to Apple, has asked employees from its Wuhan plant in China who are in Taiwan for the Chinese New Year holidays to stay back, given the new coronavirus outbreak in the city.
The authorities have confirmed more than 400 cases of the virus in China, mostly in the central city of Wuhan where it originated at the end of 2019. So far, nine people have died.
The virus, which health officials have said can be passed from person to person, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai, with cases also confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, as well as Taiwan.
Foxconn, however, said no health problems had been found so far in its Wuhan-based employees who had come back to Taiwan.
Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, said in a statement about its annual new year party in Taipei that it had asked employees from its Wuhan factory who were already back in Taiwan for the holiday to stay at home.
The company also stepped up health checks at the party, in a Taipei convention centre, including providing 35,000 face masks and checking everyone's temperature as they entered the venue.
Since the outbreak, Foxconn workers in Wuhan have been wearing face masks and getting their temperature checked, the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer said.
Mr Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Foxconn, advised employees not to visit China over the holiday.
"The speed of contagion will be no less than Sars," he said at the party, referring to the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak that started in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002-2003.
"I advise everyone not to go to the mainland for this coming new year holiday," he added.
Management has to decide whether employees need to return to Wuhan to work after new year, Mr Gou said, adding Foxconn will come up with solutions for employees to work remotely.
If they stay in Taiwan, then they can make more babies to boost Taiwan's birth rate, he said.
Taiwan has the lowest fertility rate in the world, according to a report last year by the World Population Review.
Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday in the Chinese-speaking world, when millions of people travel, including Taiwanese business people in China, for family reunions in what is the world's largest annual human migration.
Separately, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on her Facebook page late on Tuesday that people should not visit Wuhan unless they absolutely have to.
"I want to call on our nationals please not to visit this region if not necessary," she wrote.
Taiwan has stocks of 44 million surgical face masks and almost two million N95 face masks, which offer greater protection, and will release them as needed, she added, calling on people not to hoard them.
Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung, on his Facebook page, said Taiwanese airlines should consider suspending routes to Wuhan.
Taiwan on Tuesday confirmed its first case of infection from the new coronavirus, a woman in her 50s who had returned to the island after working in Wuhan.