Samsung factory closed over fears

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Samsung factory closed over fears

A Samsung Electronics smartphone factory ground to a halt after a factory worker was confirmed infected with the new coronavirus.

The plant in Gumi, North Gyeongsang, which makes Samsung’s top-of-the-line phones including the new Galaxy Z Flip, will partially restart Monday afternoon. The floor on which the infected person worked will be closed until Tuesday afternoon.

“With the Gumi operation temporarily shut down, we’re conducting disinfection activities on all operations,” Samsung’s coronavirus task force wrote in a message to factory staff Saturday. “We advise refraining from going out on the weekend or using shared facilities.”

According to Gumi’s city government, the 28-year-old Samsung factory worker met her boyfriend in Daegu on Feb. 16. It was the same day the boyfriend attended a service at the Shincheonji church, a controversial Christian sect tied to more than 300 coronavirus patients.

The factory worker developed a cough and fever two days later and was confirmed infected with the illness on Saturday. Her family and 30 other Samsung staff she came into contact with were asked to stay in their homes.

Gumi is Samsung’s only remaining smartphone production site in Korea. The electronics maker’s latest releases, the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy S20, are being manufactured there. Mobile carriers are currently taking orders for the Galaxy S20 and the first batch will be delivered Thursday.

Samsung has denied any production delays, saying it completed production of the first batch of phones. A weekend shutdown is not a major problem, it said, and volumes in Gumi are small compared to the company’s factories in Vietnam, where it has relocated a lot of its production to in the past few years.

But with the illness quickly spreading in North Gyeongsang, the situation may get worse.

The virus may pose obstacles to marketing of the Galaxy S20 in the first days of its release. All three mobile carriers have called off official launch events for the new flagship phone, which usually are held in brick-and-mortar stores. KT, for example, switched its promotional events to an online promotion.

Market research firm Strategy Analytics forecast in a Thursday report that the coronavirus scare will slow down demand for 5G phones this year. The hit is expected to be big particularly in China, which was leading global 5G phone demand in terms of volume.

“The [coronavirus] outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China,” said Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics.

“The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

BY KIM KYUNG-JIN, SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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