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Thursday April 9th, 2020 11:36PM

Singapore bank clears office after virus case found

By The Associated Press
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SINGAPORE (AP) — The Singapore bank DBS on Wednesday cleared a downtown office and told some 300 employees to work from home after one of its staff was infected with the new virus, adding to concerns that also led authorities to scale back an air show drawing thousands of visitors.

Singapore's Health Ministry has confirmed 50 cases of the virus. The bank employee, a 62-year-old man, was the most recent case. The city has found several clusters of cases, including a church, a traditional Chinese medicine store, a business meeting held last month and a construction site.

DBS said in a statement it was informed Wednesday morning that an employee was confirmed to be infected and that as a precautionary measure it told all staff working on the same floor to work from home.

“We are also currently conducting detailed contact tracing with all employees and other parties that the infected person may have come into contact with,” DBS said.

The virus outbreak, which is centered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has prompted numerous cities inside China to go into lockdown, left thousands of cruise ship passengers stranded aboard their vacation vessels and led many governments in the region to impose unprecedented travel restrictions.

The air show's events went ahead as scheduled Wednesday, as rival aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus sought to draw attention to the aviation industry's future potential while acknowledging the shadow cast by the outbreak that has led to cancellations of tens of thousands of flights.

Boeing, already struggling over the grounding of its 737 Max fleet after two crashes that killed nearly 350 people, reported zero orders for new jets in January and forecast the cargo business will likely contract in 2020.

“We, like our customers, are trying to figure out the depth and breadth of this virus and the impact on the airlines,” Boeing's vice president for commercial marketing, Randy Tinseth, said Wednesday at the Singapore Air Show.

“Without doubt, we will see an impact,” he said.

Tinseth said that the cargo business will likely be flat this year and that growth in aircraft sales is likely to fall below its forecast of 2.5-2.7% in 2020.

“If we’re not seeing goods travel, not seeing planes fly, it’s going to be tough to see any growth in the cargo market this year,” Tinseth said. “We see 14 months of contraction in the freight market.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has prompted many airlines to halt flights to and from China and devastated travel within the country as many cities halted public transport, seeking to slow its spread.

Asked about the impact of the crisis on suppliers based in China due to extended closures of many factories, Ihssane Mounir, vice president of Boeing's commercial sales and marketing, said it was not yet an issue.

“The immediate impact is more a logistics impact. we do have a number of deliveries ready for Chinese customers that they cannot come to Seattle to take delivery,” Mounir said.

He and other executives sought to emphasize the huge potential for a regional market that is growing faster than any other.

Still, in the longer term Southeast Asian airlines will need 4,500 new aircraft over the next 20 years, worth $710 billion, Boeing forecasts. Commercial aviation services, an area Boeing is pursuing as it weathers hard times in airport orders and deliveries, are likely to be worth $785 billion in 2019-2038.

Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia are among the 10 biggest markets for aircraft, helping to make the region one of the world's biggest and fastest growing.

Worldwide, Boeing is forecasting the world will need 44,040 new commercial aircraft worth $6.8 trillion in the next 20 years, with after sales services valued at more than $9 trillion.

“The fundamentals of our business tend to be strong. Our customers tend to understand these are long lived assets that demand tends to be durable," Tinseth said.

A key challenge for airlines and the industry as a whole is availability of pilots and technicians. The Asia-Pacific region will need 182,000 such personnel to fly and maintain growing airline fleets, Tinseth said.

While the longer-term outlook for the industry is still vibrant, Boeing has a lot of work to do to restore confidence after the crashes of its 737 Max jets in 2018 and 2019 led regulators to ground the aircraft, he acknowledged.

Boeing is working methodically to gain certification to return the aircraft to service, and hoping to resume production even before it gains final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators, a process also requires the aircraft maker to win over pilots, ground staff, airlines and potential passengers, he said.

“The only way you build trust is one step at a time, one action at a time, and that’s what we’re going to try to do as a company,” he said.

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