SARS forces Kingfisher to forbid Chinese travel

The spread of killer virus severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has prompted international retailer Kingfisher to ground British executives involved with its Chinese operations.

Kingfisher has six B&Q DIY stores in China and a buying office for sourcing arm Kingfisher Asia (KAL) in Hong Kong - the twin epicentres of the SARS outbreak.

A B&Q spokeswoman said: 'Certainly no-one will be travelling to the region this month. We are basically saying no unessential travel and our buyers did not attend the Canton Fair.'

According to B&Q, sales in China have not been hit by a widely reported trading downturn in infected parts of Asia.

KAL sources about 70 per cent of its£300 million group product in China each year, but the international supply chain has been unaffected so far.

'The big ranges for this season were bought a long time ago,' the spokeswoman said.

Courts, the international electricals and furniture retailer, said trading at its 11 Singapore stores had been affected. There have been eight deaths and more than 112 SARS cases in the city state.

Courts chief executive Bruce Cohen said: 'In Singapore, there has been an effect, but certainly nowhere near as bad as in Hong Kong.'

The retailer is following Foreign Office advice about travel to and from Asian countries.

Hong Kong retailers continue to bear the brunt of the epidemic. Sales there have been down 50 per cent since the pneumonia-like SARS illness first struck last month.