Interbank payments network Swift has stepped up its contingency planning in the Asia Pacific region as concerns mount about the spread of the virus that causes SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Preparations for Sibos, the annual Swift user conference and exhibition which is scheduled to take place in Singapore in October this year, remain on course.
The Belgian-based messaging network says that contingencies are in place to ensure that, should the situation deteriorate, Swift can continue to support the business activities of customers in Asia 'around-the-clock'. If necessary, users will be supported by Customer Service Centres outside the region. Operating hours at these locations will be extended, and steps have been taken to ensure that various Asian languages are supported.
In the short-term, travel by Swift staff to and from Asia in general is severely restricted and non-essential face-to-face meetings are discouraged in affected countries.
Regarding Sibos in Singapore, in October 2003, Patrik Neutjen's Swift's director of corporate communications says the Society is keeping a close watch on developments, both in Asia and Iraq. "What happens over the next six to eight weeks will probably give us a very good indication of where things are going and we are taking our responsibilities very seriously. Having said that, Sibos is still more than six months away. At this stage we have no real reason to change our plans."
Planning is too far advanced to consider relocating Sibos to another venue, says Neutjens. "Besides, if the SARS epidemic escalates then changing venue isn't going to be a good solution anyway," he says. "Six months is a long time and we will wait and see what happens. In the meantime we are continuing our preparations."
Latest figures from the World Health Organisation bring the worldwide death toll from the disease to at least 97. Singapore, which reported 106 probable cases of the disease as of last night, will begin taking the temperature of all visitors from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Canada, the Straits Times said, citing Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
The city has closed schools and quarantined people who may have been exposed in an attempt to curb the outbreak, which economists reckon could be costing the island economy as much as S$509 million ($286 million) a month.
Swift's contengency planning measures have been mirrored by large banks and market infrastructures active in the region, with Hong Kong the chief focus for concern. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has issued a circular to banks on precautions and contingency plans to deal with the outbreak, specifying the use of back-up sites and special staffing arrangements.