By Andrew Tangel and Doug Cameron 

Boeing Co. said it would suspend production in the Seattle area this week to help curb the spread of the coronavirus among its factory workers.

The halt is expected to last 14 days and begin Wednesday, Boeing said on Monday. The plane maker said it would begin with a reduction of operations on Monday.

"This necessary step protects our employees and the communities where they work and live," said Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun.

As of Wednesday, 10 workers at the Everett, Wash., plant north of Seattle, had been tested positive for coronavirus. Companywide, 15 employees and one contractor had tested positive, Boeing has said. Several hundred employees have been in quarantine.

Some 36,000 Boeing employees work at the Everett plant, including engineers and other white-collar employees. The workforce is split among three shifts in what is billed as the world's largest building. Boeing said workers who can't work remotely during the suspension will receive paid leave for the initial 10 working days of the halt.

The Seattle Times reported Sunday that an Everett-based employee had died from Covid-19. Boeing didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the reported death. A spokeswoman for a union representing Boeing workers didn't respond to requests for comment.

The production halt in Everett will affect wide-body jets such as the 787 Dreamliner. Boeing also makes the 787 at its plant in North Charleston, S.C., which remains open. Meanwhile, production of Boeing's narrow-body 737 MAX at the manufacturer's Renton, Wash., factory, also near Seattle, has been suspended since January amid a yearlong grounding following t wo crashes involving that aircraft.

Boeing currently produces around 20 wide-body jets a month at Everett and North Charleston, though had already planned to cut this by at least a fifth because of weak demand.

Plane maker's shares were recently up around 7%, building on their early gain after being briefly suspended pending the announcement.

Boeing's move follows similar actions this week by companies including motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc. and auto makers with U.S. plants.

The production halts come as government officials and business leaders argue over what companies' operations should continue as the outbreak worsens. Aerospace and defense companies have been designated as essential sectors by state and federal officials, allowing companies to continue production despite local travel and assembly restrictions.

Boeing is leading an effort to secure at least $60 billion in government and private-sector aid for the aerospace industry, with an unspecified portion for the company itself. Lawmakers on Monday continued talks about a broader bailout package for industry and the broader economy.

Some manufacturers have signaled their production halts would be brief. Boeing's rival Airbus SE, for instance, said Monday that it planned to restart production at facilities in France and Spain that had been temporarily shuttered because of local travel restrictions and factory-cleaning efforts.

Write to Andrew Tangel at Andrew.Tangel@wsj.com and Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 23, 2020 14:13 ET (18:13 GMT)

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