White House: No big Y2K problems in Asia yet

By late morning yesterday in the US, the New Year had arrived in about one-third of the world, but the year 2000 computer problem had failed to trigger shutdowns of critical infrastructure systems -- utilities, transportation and financial -- in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other industrialised nations in that region, said White House and other government officials.

"Preliminary indications are that throughout the Asia-Pacific region, there are basically no significant problems in national infrastructure systems," said John Koskinen, the White House Y2K coordinator.

Although Koskinen said he was encouraged, surviving midnight isn't the end of the Y2K problem, he said.

Problems resulting from the inability of computers to deal with the date change could result in the "gradual degradation" of services in some countries. "We have many miles to go before we sleep," said Koskinen, at the White House's Y2K centre.

The centre will continue to operate on a 24-hour basis through the middle of next week at least.

Although information system workers operating in the Asia-Pacific were buoyed by a rollover that's so far free of problems, system testing will continue throughout the weekend, and some problems may not appear until the workweek begins, they said.

For Chris Goodyear, the Y2K program manager at Canterbury Health in Christchurch, New Zealand, the New Year arrived without incident.

At midnight "we we're actually very calm," said Goodyear. "We have done so much work and had anticipated everything as much as we could. We were pretty confident that there wouldn't be any problems, and in fact, things have been extremely quiet -- almost anticlimactic here."

The information technology staff on duty at Canterbury celebrated the New Year (which arrived at 6 a.m. EST) with sparkling grape juice, said Goodyear.

Goodyear said any sense of personal satisfaction over the absence of problems would come at another time.

"It hasn't sunk in at the moment," said Goodyear. "I feel quite flat really. I think probably in a day or two, when we've had a chance to reflect, yes, we will feel very satisfied."

But issues remain. Canterbury, which operates 11 hospitals, won't know how all its medical equipment has fared until the workweek begins. "We won't feel completely out of the woods until then," said Goodyear.

The first US territory to see the New Year was Guam. Government officials on the island (which is a seven-hour flight from Hawaii and over the International dateline) told the White House that its basic services were operating.

"Not only were the infrastructure systems operating on Guam, but a plane landed and a baby was born," said Koskinen. The New Year arrived in Guam at 9 a.m. EST.

But Guam, which has been behind in repairing some its federal systems, will issue food stamps manually because the system isn't repaired, said Koskinen.

For Ron Schnabel, information systems director of DFS Group LP's Pacific region, a chain of duty-free shops and the island's largest private employer, the first big Y2K challenge was the continued operation of his point-of-sale systems.

Schnabel said the company's point-of-sale system continued ringing up sales, but he planned to be at the office until past sunrise checking back-end systems, such as a data warehouse and inventory systems.

"As long as we got the front line working, we can always take our time on the back end," said Schnabel.

White House officials said they will be watching the rollover carefully in China and Russia, two countries that may have problems with the date glitch. The New Year has already arrived in Eastern Russia, and one nuclear power plant operating in Bilibino, Siberia, crossed midnight without problems.

Domestically, although there have been scattered anecdotal reports of increased purchases by consumers, particularly water, Koskinen said the White House center hasn't been able to confirm any shortages.

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