Indian IT industry gears up to counter swine flu

Indian outsourcers employ more than 300,000 people, which could spell trouble as swine flu spreads

India's software trade body on Thursday moved to reassure the government and customers that the industry was taking precautionary measures to protect high-tech workers from swine flu.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) said on its Web site that although the Indian IT and BPO (business process outsourcing) industry is heavily travel oriented, inward and outward business travel has not been impacted.

Swine flu has spread throughout India, infecting over 1,200 people and killing 23 in the last two weeks. India's top outsourcers -- Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, and Wipro -- together employ over 300,000 staff, most of which are in India.

A number of preventive measures have been taken, such as installing hand sanitizers, active monitoring for symptoms and increased surveillance of visitors displaying symptoms, Nasscom added.

"We have advised travel only when absolutely necessary," said a spokesman for Microsoft Research in Bangalore on Friday. For the rest, the company is focusing on preventive measures and good hygiene, he added.

Outsourcing companies have also taken measures to allow staff to work from home if they return from a trip abroad and have flu symptoms. "If they have flu symptoms like cough, cold or fever, we have asked staff coming from abroad to stay at home for about three days after their return," said a spokeswoman for outsourcer Infosys Technologies.

In the initial stages of the epidemic in India, a large proportion of the victims of the flu were people from the IT industry who returned from work assignments in the U.S. and Europe.

In Pune, India's worst-affected city so far, some outsourcers and multinational companies have also put into place restrictions on travel into and outside the city. Nasscom has postponed a conference scheduled for next week in Pune until November.

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John Ribeiro

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