Italys Health Ministry is advising against handshakes in a bid to stem coronavirus spread

Italy's Health Ministry is advising against handshakes in a bid to stem coronavirus spread

Electronic component supplier, MTA says it has secured permission for a limited number of staff to resume partial production at its plant in Codogno, which remains cordoned off by the military in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak. 

Codogno – 32 miles south east of Milan – is one of 11 towns designated a red zone and isolated by Rome in an attempt to contain the highly contagious virus which has now claimed 107 lives and is starting to appear in almost every country in the world.

MTA is a key supplier to many OEMs, with Renault for example using it for parts in its 12V batteries, but the French manufacturer says it has stock for the rest of this week and is in constant discussion as to what happens next.

"Our MTA factory obtained permission on Saturday morning to let enter a few people to start some work to avoid line stop of some car manufacturers, or to try to avoid [it]," MTA marketing manager and grand-daughter of the supplier's founder, Maria-Vittoria Falchetei told just-auto from Codogno.

"We have some people which we consider necessary to start production [such as] logistics, because logistics [is needed] to load trucks. In the factory, workers who came are not coming outside the red zone.."

Falchetei added the total number of people held inside the red zone numbers around 50,000, with Codogno the largest town in the area with some 15,000 inhabitants.

Quite why the areas most affected by coronavirus in Italy are so far concentrated in the northern regions of the country is as yet unclear, but the seriousness with which authorities are taking the outbreak was given more momentum last night (4 March) with the closure of all schools and universities until 15 March.

"Obviously we would not be allowed [to start work] if people came from outside," added Falchetei. "We have [given] the name [s] of people – they know who is in special permission. We said we want: Mike, John, Elizabeth [for example] – they know [who] is in."

Last week, MTA issued an urgent appeal to be allowed to restart partial production and its plea rapidly moved from a provincial level to the Ministry of Industry in Rome, which granted permission.

Manufacturers are nervously eyeing MTA, whose 600 employees produce electromechanical and electronic components, with Renault insisting it had enough parts for at least this week.

"We still have stock for this week and I know the supply chain [department] was speaking to MTA to see if there was a way to grab some stock we had on their site," a Renault spokeswoman told just-auto. "Since then we have no news. We are calling each other each day.

"Right now the [Renault] plants are functioning and there is no change. Our purchasing department is talking to them [MTA]. We are having meetings every day to see the situation."

Rome has issued guidelines for Italian citizens to try and protect themselves including temporarily ending handshakes and kissing, but a snapshot of daily life was provided by the MTA marketing manager, who described a little of what it is like to be in the isolation areas.

"We are still not allowed to go outside the red zone," added Falchetei. "The spread of the virus is quite big, we are at the centre of the red zone. I can confirm here in the supermarket [for example], people are going around not [wearing masks] – it is not compulsory.

"They really closed us in the red zone. It is police and military [blocking] if you go to points to go to other towns."

Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza met authorities in Milan, insisting the coronavirus could be beaten, but considerable work remains to be undertaken.

"This challenge can only be overcome if there [is] correct behaviour by all citizens," said Speranza through a basic translation service. "We need real support, we have all built a message that goes in this direction. 

"Small daily gestures, like stopping shake [ing] hands, stopping embrace [ing] in social contexts, trying to always have at least one metre away from other people. They are small daily acts that cost nothing, but that can really be decisive to win this challenge."

MTA noted some of its staff in sales, purchasing and customer service were working from home.

Founded in 1954, MTA has eight factories worldwide and as well as the Codogno site, has a facility in Reggio Emilia producing electronics.