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Taiwan mayor says too early to say if tech hub safe from COVID spike

TAIPEI, June 8 (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, but the government is doing all it can, its mayor told Reuters.

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.

“We need to be even more cautious,” he said. “Why are we setting up these test sites? It’s to find infected people, and quarantine their contacts.”

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.

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.

Still, the government remains confident the country’s economy would hold up well despite the pandemic, predicting it would grow at its fastest pace in more than a decade in 2021 on the back of exports. (Reporting by Roger Tung; Writing by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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