How the Global Chip Shortage Destroyed a Family Amid Covid-19

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Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “How the Global Chip Shortage Destroyed a Family Amid Covid-19” – below is their description.

As the global chip shortage impacts everything from cars to computers, here’s a look at how it destroyed one family in Malaysia. Nancy Endi’s husband Hani died of Covid-19 after a cluster was confirmed at STMicroelectronics’s plant in the district of Muar.

Hani spent more than two decades rising through the ranks at STMicro’s facility. He prided himself on working hard to provide for his wife and four children. So when the chip plant remained open through a spike in Covid-19 infections this year, he kept doing his job.

Then one July morning, the 43-year-old woke up with a fever. Nancy took him to a local clinic, requesting a coronavirus test because of infections at the plant. The results came back positive. Hani was soon quarantined in a hospital. He lost so much weight he started avoiding video calls so he wouldn’t alarm his family. When the couple spoke by phone later, Hani was out of breath and she urged him to rest. It was their last conversation.

“My four-year-old son keeps asking, ‘Where is ayah? Where is ayah?’” Nancy, 41, said in an interview, using a Malay word for dad.

Hani was one of at least 20 workers at STMicro’s facility who died from Covid-19 after the delta variant raged through the country this year. The company kept its chip assembly and testing plant running while the virus was killing workers, as the company raced to meet surging demand from automakers and other customers. Authorities in Malaysia, like in many other countries, were concerned about keeping their economy on track during the pandemic and they granted chipmakers exemptions while much of the country locked down.

“I’m really upset because if ST shut down the plant when people were getting infected in June, I don’t think my husband would have died,” said Nancy.

While Covid-19 killed millions of people around the globe, deaths at the Muar facility were substantially higher than averages in the rest of the country and the world. One in 1,100 people in Malaysia died from the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to the country’s Ministry of Health, while it was at least one in 210 at the plant, according to Bloomberg News reporting. STMicro declined to comment on the specific number of workers who died at the Muar location.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020, ST’s actions and strategy have been driven first and utmost by the will to maximize the prevention of infection and supporting our employees and their families,” the company said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “To do so, the company deployed a broad range of measures in close collaboration with the relevant public health authorities in every country it operates, and also relied on expert third-party guidance.”

Before this year, no one worried too much about the global supply chain, beyond specialists in the field. The role of developing nations like Malaysia or the Philippines warranted little attention. But the coronavirus outbreak has been a wake-up call for chief executives, prime ministers and consumers around the world, as shortages disrupted production of everything from iPhones and F-150 pickups to Nike sneakers.

The tragedy in Muar shows the little-understood human cost of keeping supply chains running in a pandemic. While politicians in Washington and Paris urge suppliers to step up production of semiconductors and government officials in countries like Malaysia give special exemptions to powerful corporations, employees like Hani put their lives at risk.

“The duty of the government is to look after the workers’ interest more than the country’s or the companies’ interest,” said Zaid Ibrahim, a former law minister in Malaysia. “Of the three – the government, companies and workers – the most vulnerable are the workers. I wish we could have avoided these tragedies.”

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