SARS attacks Canadian business

It is business as usual at a Markham, Ont.-based Hewlett-Packard Canada Ltd. plant, the first Canadian business to have employees quarantined after exhibiting signs of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus.

Rob Ireland, manager of corporate and public relations at HP, said the quarantine was issued after public health care authorities notified HP that two of the company’s employees were exhibiting signs and symptoms of the virus.

Ireland said the quarantine, or the track incubation period, started for HP employees on April 1, the last day either of the two employees exhibiting symptoms of the SARS virus was present at the plant. HP was notified about one probable and one suspected case of SARS at its plant by public health officials on April 8, which was the first day the other HP employees were asked to stay home.

“Because of the nature of HP facilities…you have to sign in and we know exactly who comes in and goes out, we were able to determine that the last time either one of the [possibly infected] employees was on site was April 1. As such, the track incubation period gets backdated to that time,” he explained. “No one else other than those two individuals that are currently under quarantine has demonstrated symptoms, to our knowledge.”

He said he can’t comment on why one of the two possibly contagious employees broke quarantine and came to work because the conversations between public health officials and the individual are confidential, and he also didn’t want to upset the employee that is now being treated for the virus.

“Given the fact that we know that the individual is hospitalized and evidently reasonably sick, I don’t want to do anything that could cause them undue stress or comment on a potential police investigation,” Ireland said.

Ireland said the processing plant is now being operated by employees that were not working at the plant between March 31 and April 1, the time period when two employees began showing symptoms of SARS.

“Roughly 100 HP employees and approximately 90 non-HP employees, contractors and other people that worked on the site during [that time period] have been asked to be in quarantine,” Ireland said. “The people that are on-site now were not on site at all during that period.”

Ireland noted that at this point HP doesn’t know when the quarantined employees will return to work, but he’s “hopeful it will be soon.”

The United Nation’s World Heath Organization (WHO) put the total number of worldwide SARS cases at 2,890 with 116 deaths, on April 11. Hong Kong has shown the greatest increase in SARS cases, with 374 new cases reported from April 1 to April 11, and 45 deaths between the same time period.

Although HP is the first Canadian business to be marked with the virus, this is not the first time an HP office has had to keep workers home due to SARS. On April 3, HP closed the doors to its 300-person Hong Kong office after an employee began exhibiting signs of the virus. The office – which spans five floors of an office tower – is to remain closed until its cleaning is complete.

Other Asia-based businesses have not been fortunate in escaping the effects of the virus.

At Intel Corp.’s Hong Kong office two weeks ago, an employee began to show symptoms that were considered to be consistent with the SARS virus, said company spokesperson Josie Taylor. As a precautionary measure, Intel had asked all of its employees that work on the same floor – one of three floors occupied by Intel – to work from home, extending a similar offer to employees that work on the other floors, she said.

According to WHO, the international transmission of SARS was first reported in March 2003 with onset in February 2003.

The World Health Organization can be found online at