March 16, 2020 / 6:51 AM / 14 days ago

Gambling limitations, elderly shopping hours; coronavirus changes business

SEOUL/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Apple is taking the temperature of customers at its China stores, Australian grocer Woolworths is providing dedicated shopping hours for the elderly and Samsung will use thermal imaging to vet shareholders at its annual meeting.

Companies across Asia are taking novel and sometimes drastic steps to implement “social distancing” measures to try slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 170,00 globally and killed more than 6,500.

Australian casino operators, and rivals, Crown Resorts (CWN.AX) and Star Entertainment (SGR.AX) announced plans to take half their electronic gaming machines and table offline to ensure their customers got some space.

As well as switching off every second machine, the pair are restricting the number of players at both sitting and stand-up table games.

The potential hit to revenues from the measure, following a downturn in high rollers from China, weighed heavily on their shares. Crown dropped 10.5%, while Star shed a fifth, outpacing a 7.4% fall in the broader market .

The casino changes were in line with Australian government advice issued a day earlier that recommended no non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people be held. Australia has recorded more than 250 cases, including Hollywood star Tom Hanks.

Woolworths (WOW.AX), one of the country’s two major grocers, introduced a shopping hour for the elderly and those with disabilities.

“This temporary measure will give (the elderly), and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before ​our stores officially open - helping them obtain the ​essential ​items they need most in a less crowded environment,” Woolworths Supermarkets Managing Director Claire Peters said.

In South Korea, Samsung Electronics’ (005930.KS) on Monday urged shareholders to vote electronically for its annual general meeting later this week, the first time the company has adopted this measure.

The tech giant said there would be thermal cameras and contactless thermometers for those attending the meeting in person and people with symptoms may be restricted from entering. Compatriot SK Hynix (000660.KS), which also holds its AGM this week, plans to seat shareholders about two meters away from each other, a spokesman told Reuters.

In the Philippines, Samuel Matunog, president of ICT Davao an umbrella organization for 56 call center companies, said it had asked agents “not to hold hands and avoid cheek-to-cheek kisses.”

Community quarantine was implemented in Davao and some other areas in Philippines on Sunday, a move that suspended classes, imposed time-based curfews, and banned drinking in public places.

CHINA EASING

As many countries imposed tougher “social distancing” rules, China began easing its own curbs across stores, restaurants and offices after weeks of industry-wide shutdowns.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) reopened its 42 stores in mainland China while closing others elsewhere in the world, but required customers wear masks and have their temperatures taken upon entry.

An Apple store in one of Shanghai’s busiest shopping streets was buzzing on Saturday despite the restrictions, following a slump in sales last month..

The company has also moved its annual developers conference in California in June entirely online.

Workplaces in China have limited lunchtime interactions for employees and restricted the number of people allowed in elevators. Chains including McDonald’s (MCD.N) and Starbucks (SBUX.O) ramped up “contactless” pickup and delivery services.

Several food delivery companies elsewhere in Asia are adopting the “zero contact” approach, including Domino’s Pizza (DMP.AX) in Australia and New Zealand, Tencent-backed (0700.HK) Swiggy, and in India, Zomato, backed by Alibaba’s (BABA.N) Ant Financial.

“We believe it is possible ... to continue to safely prepare millions of meals for our customers each week, delivering to those who are staying at home, and to provide employment for more than 50,000 team members around the world,” Domino’s CEO Don Meij said.

Additional reporting by Nikhil Nainan Kurian in Bengaluru, Yilei Sun in Beijing and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; editing by Jane Wardell

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