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Smurfit Kappa chief reveals virus has killed five workers
DUBLIN (From news reports) -- Five employees in Smurfit Kappa's 46,000-strong workforce have died from Covid-19.

Smurfit Kappa CEO Tony Smurfit made the disclosure in a message to the 3,000 members of the Institute of Directors in Ireland.

The packaging firm, which has more than 350 facilities in 35 countries, has imposed global policies on combating Covid-19 in all its workplaces - including in nations that have been less diligent in taking precautions.

"We have had employees telling us that they feel safer in work than in their own communities," Mr Smurfit said.

He said Smurfit Kappa had identified 70 confirmed cases and 150 suspected cases of Covid-19 in its work force, including the five fatalities.

He declined to identify the location of any clusters, but noted that the company's status as a provider of essential services means it can remain open in all locations.

Smurfit Kappa operates in "countries with different infection rates, and different government and social attitudes to the pandemic. The result is that we face diverse regulatory environments," he said.

Smurfit Kappa has imposed uniform virus precautions company-wide in line with World Health Organisation and US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention rules.

He said individual plants also "adhere to local country legislation as it goes beyond these guidelines".

All locations are advised "to be flexible as the disease progresses and science advances".

Mr Smurfit also defended the firm's decision to cancel its final 2019 dividend.

In February, on the back of strong 2019 results, the firm increased that planned payout by 12pc to €0.809 a share.

But the dividend was cancelled last month.

He said it had been "a tough decision, not least in light of good quarterly results".

These showed the group's underlying profit in January-March 2020 was €380m, down 10pc from the same quarter of 2019.

He said the firm must avoid unnecessary cash burn "during the emergency and with the potential of a recession of unknown length and depth".

Pausing dividends and curtailing investments, he said, would build "a foundation of strength on which to build our strategic direction" and would mean that the firm "won't have to start rebuilding those foundations by filling a hole".

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