By Roger Tung
TAIPEI (Reuters) -It is still too early to say whether the major chip companies that operate in Taiwan’s tech hub of Hsinchu will be safe from the latest increase in COVID-19 infections, its mayor said, though chip giant TSMC said it had seen no impact so far.
After months of relative safety, Taiwan is dealing with a rise in domestic infections, which have since last week begun impacting a small number of tech firms in Miaoli, the town adjacent to Hsinchu, including chip test and packaging firm King Yuan Electronics and semiconductor equipment provider Foxsemicon Integrated Technology.
Taiwan is a major producer of semiconductors and is central to global efforts to resolve a chip shortage that has shuttered some car plants around the world and is now starting to affect consumer electronics.
Hsinchu, home to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chip maker, has set up an “anti-epidemic combat alliance” with Miaoli to ensure infections do not spread.
President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed to build a “line of defence” to protect what she called an “industry of national importance,” sending soldiers last week to help build test stations in Hsinchu Science Park.
Hsinchu Mayor Lin Chih-chien, in an interview with Reuters late on Monday, said that he could not guarantee total safety for the city’s tech firms, but that the government had rolled out rapid testing stations.
“I don’t dare to say there is absolutely no problem. If there were no problem, then we wouldn’t need to set up rapid testing stations in the science park so urgently and quickly,” said Lin, a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
On Sunday he said they had tested more than 1,800 migrant workers and found five positive cases.
He said it was “too early to say” whether the city’s tech firms were totally safe.
Hsinchu’s science park is home to more than 10,000 migrant workers, with almost 68,000 in the city, its neighbouring county and Miaoli, with some dormitories housing more than 10 people per room, creating a possible “hotbed” for transmission, Lin said.
TSMC SEES NO IMPACT
So far the pandemic has not had a major impact on TSMC, which last month began stepped up disease-prevention measures, including separating work teams and telling staff and vendors not to move across its main production sites in Hsinchu, Taichung and Tainan.
TSMC said in a statement the company had not started mass testing of employees.
“Regarding the rise in infections in Miaoli, we have not seen any impact so far, and we are monitoring the situation closely,” the company said.
By Tuesday morning, more than 250 cases had been reported in four tech companies in the area, the majority of which were in migrant workers from Southeast Asian countries.
Companies affected included chip packaging and testing firm Greatek Electronics Inc and telecom equipment maker Accton Technology Corp.
In a statement to the stock exchange on Monday, King Yuan, which has recorded more than 200 infections, said it expected a 30%-35% impact on production in June.
(Reporting by Roger Tung; Writing by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee. Editing by Gerry Doyle)