BANGKOK -- Thai Union Group, the world's largest canned tuna processor, confirmed on Wednesday that 69 employees at factories in Samut Sakhon Province have tested positive for COVID-19, putting Thailand's biggest seafood production center at risk, as hundreds of other cases have been found at neighboring companies.
Thirapong Chansiri, president and chief executive of Thai Union, said the company has been conducting COVID-19 tests since the beginning of the second wave of the pandemic in early December, so far screening 23,630 of its 27,552 employees in Samut Sakhon.
"As of Jan. 5, 69 employees returned positive results from PCR tests," Thirapong said in a statement.
In neighboring Malaysia, Top Glove, the world's largest manufacturer of rubber gloves, was forced to scale back production in November and December after more than 5,300 workers tested positive. Thai Union says its production will not be affected.
"It's very important to note that, due to the extremely small number of impacted employees, all Thai Union's factories currently remain open and operational at capacity," Thirapong said. However, in-person meetings between employees, contractors and visitors have been reduced, he added.
Thai Union's 69 infected employees account for under 0.3% of the more than 27,000 workers in Samut Sakhon Province, the country's chief seafood production hub. The area attracts thousands of migrant workers, who authorities believe are the main source of the second pandemic wave in Thailand.
Samut Sakhon is one of 28 provinces designated as a "red zone," or an area with high infection levels. It has also been designated as a "containment zone with the most stringent restrictions," according to the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration.
However, the number of confirmed cases has risen sharply. Teerapat Cutchama, deputy governor of the province, said there were more than 900 confirmed cases found in seafood factories in Samut Sakhon, including Thai Union's factories.
Shares of TU dropped 1.42% from the previous day's close to 13.9 baht due to panic selling immediately after the announcement.
"The company said it will continue testing to control the situation, and the number of infected employees is small compared to its entire workforce. So I think the panic sell-off should be relatively brief," said an analyst who asked not to be named.
Still, the situation shows that Thailand's seafood industry is not immune to the pandemic.
According to Kasikorn Research, a local think tank, damages to the fishing industry could total 13 billion baht ($434 million) because a shrimp market in Samut Sakhon is believed to have been the source of the second outbreak. Domestic seafood consumption will shrink by 15 billion baht and another 17 billion baht will be lost by the hospitality industry as people cancel travel plans.