Border maquiladoras brace for health, economic impact of coronavirus

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U.S.-run plants in Mexico form task force to minimize work stoppages as COVID-19 gets close to the region

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border maquiladoras already dealing with missing parts shipments from Asian suppliers sidelined by the coronavirus are now taking steps to blunt the arrival of the disease to the region.

The National Maquiladora Association (now known as Index) this week created a task force to identify the health and operational risks COVID-19 poses to manufacturing operations and to pass on that information so that managers can make informed decisions.

Maquiladoras run low on Chinese supplies due to coronavirus, send hundreds of workers home

Index Sonora chapter President Gerardo Vazquez has been tapped to lead the group. The task force will keep in touch with maquiladora executives in Juarez and other border manufacturing hubs to get accurate, real-time information if any plant experiences a coronavirus-related health emergency, Index said Thursday on its web page.

At least 10 U.S.-run maquiladoras in Sonora and Chihuahua have effected work stoppages as of this week, sending an undisclosed number of workers home with pay but without the usual attendance and production bonuses.

But the largest employer in Mexico’s major cities bordering the United States hasn’t had to deal yet with sick employees. “We’ve had some work stoppages in factories because they have not received products specific to the production line […] microchips, (electronic) cards and microprocessors made in China,” Vazquez told El Imparcial this week.

Border Report earlier documented a similar situation in Juarez, where industry officials say things are otherwise business-as-usual. Nonetheless, they are preparing for the possible arrival of COVID-19 to the city.

“They’re acting with calm but being cautious. Calls have been made to uphold hygiene standards and making sure infirmiries and medical offices are staffed and stocked,” said Miguel Angel Calderon, director of the Juarez Chamber of Industry.

The industry spokesman said no drastic measures — such as having all employees wear surgical masks while working — have been taken.

“They are experienced at doing this. They know to be in communication with health authorities and monitor flu-like illnesses. They’re an industry with really high-quality control and cleanliness standards,” Calderon said.

One thing that does worry industry officials and any Mexican business owner that buys, sells or offers services in El Paso, Texas is the possibility that the Trump administration expands a coronavirus-related travel ban to Europe to include Mexico.

“It’s important that our Foreign Service and the Ministry of Economy maintain a strong communication with U.S. authorities to avoid any extreme measures that could place our country in a difficult situation,” Calderon said.

In El Paso, leaders of the industry advocate Borderplex Alliance also said it’s “not a time to panic.”

“We’re not at a critical point here and I want to reiterate it’s not a time to panic,” Borderplex Alliance CEO Jon Barela said. “We are still analyzing the situation, but we are hopeful that cases have peaked around the world — maybe not in our area — but we still don’t have any proven cases of the virus in our area, which is another positive.”

But, speaking of panic, Border Report on Thursday witnessed brisk sales of water bottles and cleaning supplies at one Downtown Juarez supermarket. Some of the shoppers said they were worried about the coronavirus cases reported Wednesday in New Mexico — though no cases have been confirmed so far in the city.

Juarez freelance reporter Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.

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