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Coronavirus Effect: Teleconference Apps Witness a Surge of 6.7 million in First Week of March

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(Image: Reuters)

Image for Representation
(Image: Reuters)

The outbreak, which reached global pandemic status this week, has forced companies to rely heavily on business conferencing tools as workers stop commuting to offices.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: March 14, 2020, 1:46 PM IST

Global downloads of business apps including Tencent Conference, WeChat Work, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have risen nearly fivefold since the start of the year, data showed, as the coronavirus outbreak changes how corporations work. While such apps attracted 1.4 million new users across the App Store and Google Play in the first week of January, that figure jumped to a record 6.7 million in the first week of March, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower.

The outbreak, which reached global pandemic status this week, has forced companies to rely heavily on business conferencing tools as workers stop commuting to offices. These services range from video conferencing apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts Meet to cutting edge tools inspired by “Star Wars” to make remote work more manageable.

Some of these newer services such as Rumii and Spatial, which let users attend meetings in digital rooms where they can see and interact with digitized, 3D versions of their coworkers. Zoom Video Communications Inc’s daily active user base grew by 67% since early January, data from Apptopia showed. Analysts, however, warn that not every business app would see a corresponding financial gain from the demand surge.

“Most of them offer a freemium version so why would users pay when they can use for free,” Summit Insights Group analyst Jonathan Kees said, pointing to services like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, which recently expanded their free offerings. Zoom last week said it had seen a jump in usage, but added it was early to say whether such users will convert into paying customers. Shares of the company have surged more than 60% since the beginning of this year, even as broader markets have been volatile on fears that the fast-spreading virus could lead to a global recession.

VIRTUAL REALITY

Rumii, a virtual reality training and education platform by Doghead Simulations, which costs $14.99 per month per user, last week began offering its services for free after noticing an uptick in use as the coronavirus spread in the United States. New York-based augmented reality software company Spatial also saw usage of its service double over the last month. Spatial Chief Executive Officer Anand Agarawala said that coronavirus concerns have led to a 400% surge in requests for the company’s licenses in the last month and a 50% increase in usage within the past week.

Some analysts say the accelerated adoption of business apps cannot be dismissed as a blip. “We have to consider that some of these changes may be irreversible, when (hopefully) things return to normal,” DA Davidson analyst Rishi Jaluria said. “You’ll see more companies adopting these technologies and using them on a regular basis. So the benefit is more long-term in nature.”

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Bernie Sanders Slams Amazon For Asking Employees to Donate Their Paid Time Off

Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery.
(Image: Reuters)

Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery.
(Image: Reuters)

Amazon subsidiary Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey sent out an email to grocery store employees this week and among his six suggestions was an option for employees to “donate” their paid time off (PTO) to coworkers facing medical emergencies.

  • IANS
  • Last Updated: March 14, 2020, 1:30 PM IST

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has slammed Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for asking employees to “donate” their paid time off (PTO) to co-workers who have fallen sick during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon subsidiary Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey sent out an email to grocery store employees this week and among his six suggestions was an option for employees to “donate” their paid time off (PTO) to coworkers facing medical emergencies.

“Team Members who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family can receive donated PTO hours, not only from Team Members in their own location, but also from Team Members across the country,” Mackey wrote in an email seen by Motherboard. Whole Foods also said that it will offer unlimited, unpaid time off during the month of March and two weeks of paid time off for workers who test positive for COVID-19. Sanders tweeted: “Amazon paid $0 in taxes on $11 billion in annual profits. But it asks workers to ‘donate’ their paid leave to others who are sick.”

“Workers and taxpayers are expected to be generous. Corporate CEOs ‘even during a pandemic’ can be as stingy as they want,” he added. Amazon-owned Whole Foods is a supermarket chain headquartered in Austin. “Considering [Whole Foods] is a billion-dollar company, I think it is selfish asking the retail workers to figure it out within themselves,” a Whole Foods cashier was quoted as saying in the report. “The response from [Whole Foods and Amazon] has been quite poor, being a front end cashier I feel like we are the most exposed to the situation…Some of us have sick family members [whose] immune system is weak and [it] could be quite dangerous if they catch this virus”.

Social media users blasted Amazon and its CEO over the report. “Remember when Jeff Bezos, whose company owns Whole Foods, said he was so freakin’ rich he didn’t know how to spend his money so, heck, he’d start a space programme?” posted Alex Kotch, an award-winning investigative reporter. “I suggest that Jeff Bezos donate 100% of his corporate profit to guarantee 100% of his employee salaries AND jobs. His employees are already bearing personal costa time for him to do what’s right,” another Twitter user commented.

An ex-Whole Foods employee said: “When I worked for Whole Foods a few years back, I called in sick with the flu and was told by my manager to come in anyways. I said that wasn’t safe and he argued it was fine because he was there and he also had the flu (and was running the meat counter)”. Whole Foods was yet to comment. “I used to teach classes at 3 different Whole Foods Markets. The employees work SO HARD there! They deserve their vacation time (which is NOT enough). Only sheer arrogance & unfettered greed would propel someone to even come up with this obscene scenario,” posted Serenity Foods.

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Tech

Samsung to Move Smartphone Production to Vietnam Due to Coronavirus Epidemic

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(Reuters)

Image for Representation
(Reuters)

Since late February, a total of six workers have tested positive at the factory complex in Gumi, close to the city of Daegu – the epicentre of South Korea’s virus outbreak – leading to previous temporary closures at the plant.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: March 6, 2020, 5:24 PM IST

Samsung Electronics said on Friday that it would temporarily move some smartphone production to Vietnam from South Korea after another of its Korean staff tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing it to close a factory. A company spokeswoman said the group had suspended operations at its factory in the southern city of Gumi in South Korea after a worker tested positive for the virus.

The plant, which makes Samsung’s premium phones like S20 and Z Flip foldable phones, will resume production on Saturday, she said. Since late February, a total of six workers have tested positive at the factory complex in Gumi, close to the city of Daegu – the epicentre of South Korea’s virus outbreak – leading to previous temporary closures at the plant.

The move to shift output of “some premium smartphones” to Vietnam “intends to supply products to consumers in more effective, stable and timely manner,” Samsung said in a statement. “Once the COVID-19 situation stabilises, we plan to move back the output to Gumi,” it said. Samsung has already shifted much of its smartphone production to Vietnam over the past decade, where it makes over 50% of its phones and has so far seen little production disruption. Its Gumi factory makes up for a small portion of its total output. Samsung on Friday launched its S20 flagship smartphones globally as scheduled amid concerns that the virus would dent demand for premium phones at home and overseas markets.

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Facebook Offers Free Ads to WHO to Fight Against Coronavirus Epidemic

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(Image: AFP Relaxnews)

Image for Representation

(Image: AFP Relaxnews)

In February, the company said it would ban advertisements for products offering any cures or prevention around the coronavirus outbreak, and those that create a sense of urgency around the situation.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: March 4, 2020, 3:03 PM IST

Facebook Inc will provide free advertisements to the World Health Organization (WHO) as it seeks to ensure users are not misinformed about the virus, its risks and how to react to it, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday. “We’re giving the WHO as many free ads as they need for their coronavirus response along with other in-kind support,” Zuckerberg said bit.ly/3aqdihN in the Facebook post.

Users who search for posts on the virus on Facebook would now see a pop-up that directs them to the WHO or local health authority for the latest information, Zuckerberg said. He also pledged again that the company would remove false claims and conspiracy theories flagged by leading global health organizations to help combat misinformation about the coronavirus.

Facebook will be working with global health experts and give support and “millions more in ad credits” to other organizations. In February, the company said it would ban advertisements for products offering any cures or prevention around the coronavirus outbreak, and those that create a sense of urgency around the situation. The disease, believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread around the world, infecting nearly 93,000 people globally as of March 3.

Other social media platforms have been taking steps to improve their coverage of the virus. Searches on Pinterest for “coronavirus” take users to a curated web page while WHO launched an account on video app TikTok late last week.

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Game Developers Conference 2020 Canceled Due to Coronavirus Epidemic

The past few days saw participants dropping out of the Game Developers Conference 2020 and soon enough the organisers have announced that the event will be postponed until summer due to the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic.

“After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March. We fully intend to host a GDC event later in the summer. We will be working with our partners to finalize the details and will share more information about our plans in the coming weeks.” according to an update from the GDC organizers.

All major global conferences including the Mobile World Congress, CP+, Geneva Auto Show and others have been canceled due to safety concerns.

GDC organizer Simon Carless said in a tweet that attendees who had purchased passes for the conference will get full refunds. No penalties or fines will be charged for canceling hotel rooms reservations within the GDC room block. According to an email received by a GDC attendee said that refunds would be processed in “4 – 6 weeks.” To help cover some of the financial damage to individuals, Gamedev.world and others are organizing a fundraiser.

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Coronavirus Outbreak: Amazon Does Not Want Sellers to Increase Prices of Face Masks

Tech giant Amazon is warning third-party sellers on its marketplace to refrain from charging exorbitant pricing for face masks amid the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak that is spreading globally. Amazon has alerted merchants about face masks that are “not in compliance” with its pricing policies, according to an email provided by the tech major.

One consultant who works with Amazon sellers said that listings for overpriced face masks had been deleted from the site. The topic “coronavirus and price gouging” has also been hotly debated among the users on Amazon’s official selling forum over the past week, the Wired reported on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the US Federal health officials have issued a grim warning about a “bad” spread of coronavirus and asked the nation to prepare for drastic actions like cancelling meetings as the disease was spreading its tentacle far beyond China.

The coronavirus outbreak has already handed a blow to the tech industry. The Mobile World Congress 2020 in Barcelona had to be cancelled after the disease spread. The coronavirus death toll in mainland China has increased to 2,663 with 77,658 confirmed cases, health authorities said on Tuesday. The National Health Commission said that it has received reports of 508 new cases and 71 deaths on Monday from 31 provincial-level regions of mainland China.

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Not Just Apple, But Xiaomi, Oppo And Vivo Are Struggling With The Shutdown Due to Coronavirus

People wearing masks are seen at a subway station in Shanghai, China. (Reuters)

People wearing masks are seen at a subway station in Shanghai, China. (Reuters)

The outbreak, which has infected more than 72,000 and prevented many employees from returning to work due to travel and quarantine restrictions, was reverberating throughout the U.S. firm’s supply chain.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: February 18, 2020, 4:35 PM IST

IApple Inc’s surprise warning that it will likely fall short of this quarter’s sales target due to the coronavirus epidemic points to much pain for its chip and other suppliers as well as for rivals who also rely on China to build their products. Revising guidance set just three weeks ago, the world’s most valuable tech company said while many factories that make iPhones have reopened for work, they were ramping up more slowly than anticipated. The outbreak, which has infected more than 72,000 and prevented many employees from returning to work due to travel and quarantine restrictions, was reverberating throughout the U.S. firm’s supply chain, a source familiar with Apple’s operations in China said.

“If one component factory stays closed and they’re the only supplier, then everyone has to stop and wait. And if there are two suppliers and one is shut down, then we need the other to do more,” said the source who was not authorized to speak to media and declined to be identified. Stacy Rasgon, a Bernstein analyst, said Apple’s woes probably also mean fewer chips will be sold throughout the mobile device industry because the overwhelming majority are made in China. “Maybe this is the wake up call. I would be astonished if Apple is the only one,” he said. “Every electronic supply chain runs through China in a big way.”Research firm Canalys estimates both Apple, which outsources much of its manufacturing to Taiwan’s Foxconn, and rival Huawei Technologies have 99% of their production in China. The world’s No. 1 smartphone market is likely see sales halve in the first quarter due to the virus, analysts have said.

Chinese rivals Oppo, Xiaomi Corp (1810.HK) and Vivo have 83%, 72%, and 65% of their production in China respectively. Reuters reported last week that roughly 10% of Foxconn’s workers in China have resumed production, while other plants in the country remain largely shuttered. Foxconn denied the reports in a company filing without elaborating.

Shares of Apple’s chip suppliers fell on the news on Tuesday, with Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) losing 2.8%, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) (2330.TW) down 2.9% and SK Hynix (000660.KS) shedding 2.9%.

Analysts at ANZ noted Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) was vulnerable to disruptions caused by the epidemic as it supplies mobile modem chips to almost all major smartphone makers and generates nearly half of its sales from China. U.S.-based suppliers that do a lot of business with Apple include Broadcom Inc (AVGO.O), Qorvo Inc (QRVO.O) and Skyworks Solutions Inc (SWKS.O).

Broadcom makes a range of wireless components for iPhones and said last month it had signed a deal to supply Apple for contracts worth as much as $15 billion. Sales to Apple accounted for 20% of its annual revenue in fiscal 2019.

Qorvo, which sells parts that help phones connect to wireless data networks, generated around one third of its revenue from Apple in fiscal 2019. Skyworks, another wireless component supplier, got more than 10% of its annual revenue from Apple.

Other U.S. suppliers to Apple include Texas Instruments Inc (TXN.O). Its battery charging chips have been found in iPhone teardowns, although the company sells across a broad spectrum of the electronics industry.

In Europe, the Netherlands’ NXP Semiconductors (NXPI.O) supplies Apple with the near-field communications chips used in the iPhone’s Apple Pay contactless payments feature, according to TechInsights teardowns and industry analysts. Chips made by Franco-Italian firm STMicroelectronics (STM.MI) (STM.PA) are used for wireless battery charging and for infrared cameras in iPhones, according to teardowns. Its shares lost 3.5% in morning trade. Investors in chipmakers have until now have been willing to look past temporary coronavirus disruptions, hoping for a sales recovery in the second half, said Bernstein’s Rasgon Mike Fawkes, who previously ran supply chain operations for Hewlett-Packard, said even if it wanted to, Apple was unlikely to find alternative production sources soon. “They’re stuck with China for some period of time,” he said. “It’s very hard when you’re managing a big battleship like they are.”

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Coronavirus Has a Deadly Weapon That You Did Not Know About: The Super Spreaders

Coronavirus now has a name. COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained, “co” stood for “corona”, “vi” for “virus” and “d” for “disease”. The official death toll from Coronavirus, or COVID-19 and also known as 2019-nCoV is now more than 1000 globally, and the worldwide spread of the disease continues and China remains the worst hit. Perhaps the official statistic that there are more than 42,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus hits home the fact that this is now very much a global problem.

The Coronavirus has a secret weapon, much like SARS before it. The super spreader. But what is a super spreader? While there is no strict medical definition for this term, this usually refers to the person who is infected by a particular virus or disease and subsequently spreads the infection to significantly more people than someone else also infected by the same virus or disease. Reports out of Hong Kong suggest that a super spreader at the high-rise tower called Hong Mei House in north-western Hong Kong’s Tsing Yi has put more than 3000 residents at risk, after the Coronavirus appeared to have spread inside the complex via pipes and ducts.

A typical infection spreader follows the traditional steps. He or she catches a virus but may not know about it at this point. Then as carriers, they each infect people in close proximity. Science is at a consensus that this spread is usually 2.6 people per person, on an average. Subsequently, the carrier and ones the infection was spread to show the symptoms and are taken into quarantine for treatment. But a super-spreader works a bit differently. A super-spreader also catches the virus or infection much like everyone else, but unknowingly spreads it to 8 people on an average immediately, as against 2.6 people that someone else would. If like the Coronavirus, the infection stays in the body for up to 14 days before showing symptoms, the spread can continue further.

But this isn’t the first case.

According to a study published in JAMA on February 7 which analysed as many as 138 confirmed Coronavirus cases in Wuhan confirms that some people may pass on the virus more readily than the average person. “One reason for the rapid spread may be related to the atypical symptoms in the early stage in some patients infected with nCoV,” says the research.

Briton Steve Walsh is perhaps the most high profile among the Coronavirus super spreaders thus far. It is believed that Walsh caught the virus, at that point unknown to him, in Singapore. He then made a long journey home, via a ski resort in The Alps, and ended up infecting as many as 11 people along the way. He has since recovered, but the weight of being the reason for 11 other people catching Coronavirus because of him, is clearly weighing heavily.

There is no scientific explanation for how some infected people become super spreaders. But the virus uses some human carriers in a way that the infection spreads to more people than the average.

“In most outbreaks you’ll find super spreaders but we don’t really understand the mechanism. What we often think is these people are producing lots of virus, and that generally translates to lots of transmission potential. But why do certain people produce lots of virus? We’re unsure,” Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said to The Telegraph.

The main signs of the Coronavirus infection are high fever, cough, cold and a shortness of breath. In short, typical flu symptoms at first. Doctors suggest that frequently washing your hands with soap, using hand sanitizers regularly, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and avoiding contact with a potentially infected human can reduce the chances of the spread of infection.

According to the constantly updated data from The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China as well as information shared by local governments, there are now more than 33,000 confirmed cases in China, more than 135 in Japan if we also include those cases on the Diamond Princes cruise ship now quarantined, 47 in Singapore, 28 in South Korea, 33 in Thailand, 13 in the United States of America, 8 in Britain, 16 in Germany and 3 in India, to list out a few. By the time you read this, the stats would have changed.

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Coronavirus Outbreak Causing Unexpected Growth in Games, Video App Downloads in China

Illustrative image of Plague Inc, a strategy simulation game that lets players infect the world . (Photo: Reuters)

Illustrative image of Plague Inc, a strategy simulation game that lets players infect the world . (Photo: Reuters)

The prospect of being stuck in quarantine is leading to games and video streaming apps being one of the very few to benefit from Coronavirus, as per Reuters.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: February 4, 2020, 4:07 PM IST

Online games and short video apps have been among the few beneficiaries of China’s virus outbreak, raking in millions of views and downloads as people stuck in self-quarantine at home seek entertainment and ways to beguile their time. The shift has even drawn companies more used to doing business in showrooms, such as carmakers Tesla and Mercedes-Benz, to promote products heavily online during the week.

Chinese travel and gather with family and friends during the traditional Lunar New Year holiday, but many postponed or cancelled their plans over concerns sparked in mid-January about the spread of a new virus that has killed 420. “I only use my mobile phone for three hours a day at work, but at least eight hours every day during the Spring Festival, because it’s so boring,” Lu Zhang, a junior high school teacher in eastern Shandong province, said of the enforced holiday.

Investors have seized on the trend, with shares of Chinese game publishers, such as Tencent, rising 2% in Hong Kong on Tuesday, outstripping a rise of 1% in the benchmark, while in New York, NetEase rose nearly 3%. U.S.-listed shares in Chinese video platform Bilibili rose almost 7%, while shares of search engine Baidu and e-commerce giant Alibaba also rose. Five mobile game developers, including Ourpalm, surged by the maximum allowed 10% on Tuesday.

Weekly downloads jumped 77% on ByteDance’s Xigua video app from Jan. 20 to Jan. 26, after it announced plans to stream the premiere of a movie, “Lost in Russia” for free, data from performance tracker App Annie showed. “My screen time yesterday exceeded 10 hours,” one Shanghai resident, identified only as Wang, said in a social media post, adding, “What do you all suggest I do other than look at my cellphone?” Also popular are health and fitness apps, such as Keep, which livestreams fitness classes. Its revenue surged 15% for the week, while healthcare app Pingan Good Doctor saw downloads jump 1,186%.

“We believe that China internet and logistics companies are somewhat sheltered,” from the impact of the virus outbreak, analysts from Bernstein Research wrote in a Monday note, amid a growing trend for all products and services to move online. Tencent’s blockbuster mobile game, “Honour of Kings” made up to 2 billion yuan ($286 million) on the Jan. 24 eve of the holiday, estimated Pei Pei, an analyst with Sinolink Securities Co, exceeding all the Chinese mobile games on Apple’s app store during the entire week-long break in 2018. Tencent declined to comment.

Strategy simulation app “Plague Inc.”, which jumped to the top of the charts in Apple’s app store, retained its popularity. The game, which allows users to create and evolve a pathogen to destroy the world, generated 78,000 downloads in January, up from 16,000 in December, according to Sensor Tower. “Many students play games during the Spring Festival,” said the junior high teacher, Lu, adding that she spent more than five hours each day playing poker, among other games. “Sometimes they invite me to join when they see me online.” U.S. electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc, which started delivery in December of cars built at its $2-billion Shanghai plant, stepped up daily livestreamed sales events on video app Douyin to highlight features of its vehicles.

Several sales dealers for Mercedes Benz also took to the WeChat app with a link to a 360-degree interior view of its GLB compact SUV, simulating the passenger experience and offering close-ups of the seats’ leather stitching details and dashboard. “Not leaving home, so use virtual reality to look at cars!” one of the representatives exhorted viewers.

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Coronavirus Affects Tech Supply Chains as Korea Feels the Heat

The new coronavirus-triggered angst appears to be spilling over to the Korean corporate realm as the global supply chain is feared to face some disruptions, industry watchers said Sunday. With the new coronavirus killing more than 300 people in China so far, Beijing recently decided to extend its Lunar New Year’s holiday in some areas of the country in what could be a move that can disturb the normal operations of South Korean firms with manufacturing bases there, Yonhap news agency reported.

The extension of the holiday that originally started January 25 was earlier announced only in Hubei province in central China, where Wuhan, the epicentre of the new virus, is located but was later expanded to other areas as the number of patients skyrocketed at an alarming pace. South Korea’s exports are poised to face a setback should the spread of the virus not be contained soon, industry watchers said, as local firms with production facilities in China have been suspending or scaling back their operations in the world’s No. 2 economy.

South Korea’s top tech giant Samsung Electronics Co. decided to shut down the operations of its home appliances production line in Suzhou, eastern China, until next week in tune with the extended holiday. LG Electronics Inc. and SK Innovation Co. also plan to put off the reopening of their Chinese production line until the end of next week. LG Chem Ltd. said it has sharply lowered the operational level of its battery line in China as well. Korean chipmakers and display makers, on the other hand, have been maintaining the routine operation over the holiday, although LG Display Co. said it is considering closing down its facilities depending on the development of the issue.

“We already secured enough inventory in preparation for the Chinese New Year’s holiday, but it is inevitable for us to face troubles if the situation is drawn out over a long period,” a SK Innovation official said. Chipmaker SK hynix Inc. said South Korean firms will eventually face some disruptions in their operations and production if the issue is protracted. Industry watchers said the rapid spread of the new coronavirus has already prodded South Korean carmakers to scale down their production as the supply of some auto parts has been disrupted by the spread of the new virus.

SsangYong Motor Co. earlier said it will suspend the production of its plant in South Korea through February 12 amid a delay in the supply of wiring harnesses, a part used to supply power in an automobile. South Korean carmakers depend heavily on China for the supply of parts. “As many auto parts makers have relocated to China to cut costs, it will not be easy for them to return home,” said Lee Hang-koo, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade.

Numerous South Korean firms, including Samsung Electronics, have kicked off task force teams, but the companies are likely to continue to face uncertainties as the new coronavirus situation is changing every minute, industry watchers added.

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