PORTLAND (AP) – Several Maine businesses with ties to Asia have curtailed travel to the region because of concerns about the mysterious flu-like illness that originated there.

Fairchild Semiconductor International Inc. in South Portland and FMC BioPolymer, which has a Rockland facility, halted travel to Asia in recent days following new reports about severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The SARS scare prompted L.L. Bean to go a step further and ask Asian-based vendors and sales representatives to postpone travel to its Freeport offices for business meetings.

SARS has killed at least 80 people in Asia and Canada since it was first recognized in Vietnam in late February. There have been at least 85 suspected cases in the United States, including two in Maine.

Because associates can easily communicate by telephone, e-mail and teleconferencing, businesses said the clamp-down on travel should have little short-term impact.

But the inability to make regular, on-site visits to factories and offices in Asia could interfere with quality control over a longer period for some companies.

L.L. Bean spokesman Rich Donaldson said that “when you monitor things like quality in a factory, you hold yourself to a certain timetable around inspections.”

Nationwide, fears about the spread of SARS have begun to hurt U.S. companies, especially those in the technology sector. Intel this week canceled two trade shows for developers in Beijing and in Taipei, Taiwan. Microsoft Corp. asked employees to consider putting off non-essential travel to Hong Kong and China’s Guangdong Province, the presumed origin of the illness.

In Maine, Fairchild Semiconductor asked managers to tell employees that there is no need to travel for business, a decision made after the World Health Organization on Wednesday advised travelers to avoid going to Guangdong province or Hong Kong.

Fairchild’s advisory to employees mostly applies to marketing staff who attend trade shows and assist clients with using Fairchild’s products.

“We have asked employees to restrict travel as a matter of consideration to them and their families,” said Patti Olson, a spokeswoman for the chipmaker, which has plants in Malaysia and the Philippines. Its Asian sales operation is headquartered in Hong Kong.

At FMC BioPolymer, which sells the food additive carrageenan in Asia, production manager Frank DiCristina said employees Thursday were given a company-wide memo “essentially restricting travel to Asia unless there were extreme circumstances that require it.”



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