SARS Affects WQA Members
WQA posted the following SARS update on its website last week:
During the past several months there has been a lot of media coverage of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Disorder) and its spread throughout much of the world.
WQA contacted members in some of the areas most affected by SARS to see if the illness was having an effect on the water treatment business in these regions. The results of our informal poll were very surprisingand could provide some good lessons for WQA members in areas that might be affected in the future. (Most of the respondents indicated that they would prefer to remain anonymous.)
The companies in Hong Kong that responded to our survey reported a significant drop in overall business activity. One regional manager for a US manufacturer reported that restaurants, local nightspots, buses, trains, and public gathering places are almost empty.
He told us that it is hard for people in other parts of the world to comprehend what type of an effect SARS has had on the fabric of society in Hong Kong. People tend to distance themselves from each other by about 3 meters (10 feet) on sidewalks and in supermarkets.
They try hard to avoid touching light switches, elevator buttons, doorknobs, and public bathroomsanything that could possibly harbor SARS is avoided. Even family celebrations like birthdays and weddings are also being postponed or cancelled.
At this point in the SARS crisis it appears that water treatment equipment sales to food service customers and others who provide food or entertainment to the public are down sharply. We did not see reports of residential equipment sales declines though one respondent felt that if SARS fears persist much longer the residential segment would also face decline.
One respondent mentioned that in the current climate it is difficult to schedule service calls, hold training seminars, or make sales presentations.
An equipment manufacturer in Shanghai reported almost no affects to his company so far, though the company is taking steps to inform its employees of what SARS is and how to take steps to protect against it.
It appears that many people in China are purchasing face masks to protect themselves and others from SARS. In Hong Kong it was reported that air purifiers, disinfection equipment, and automatic alcohol dispensers are all being purchased by restaurants and public utilities. No mention of water disinfection equipment purchases was made by any of our respondents.
Dan Scruton of Integra Environmental Inc. in Burlington, Ontario, Canada reports that the biggest effect upon their business was the inability to deliver equipment or service DI units into the Toronto area. Overall sales were not affected. Dan states that the quarantine that had been in place around some area hospitals has been lifted and Integra is now able to install and service equipment. He believes that his business will not be affected as much as airlines, hotels, and any others involved in tourism.
Media coverage & member-to-member info
In general, WQA members who responded to the survey felt that media reporting on the outbreak was fair and objective. We asked members to tell us what they wanted other WQA members to know. One mentioned that a study was done recently by the Hong Hong University Microbiology Faculty indicating that the SARS Coronavirus can live on plastic surfaces for 12 hours, in adult excreta for 6 hours, and in SARS patient excreta for 4 days. (Editors note : this information is unconfirmed).
Another in China wanted members to be aware that SARS cannot be transmitted via products made in and shipped from China.
Some of the conclusions that might be drawn from survey responses are:
1) Water treatment companies serving tourism-related clients, hospitals, and foodservice customers will probably be the first to feel the effects of SARS.
2) None of our respondents reported an upswing in business due to SARS fears.
3) Companies in SARS-affected areas need to educate their employees of the risks they face on the job and how these can be avoided.
4) Customers and installations may be placed off-limits by quarantines, perhaps requiring alternative delivery methods or pre-positioning of supplies.
5) Protective equipment and gear needed to service customers often become scarce once SARS enters a specific area.