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by Chris Tobin

A nervous wait is in store before the full implications of the coronavirus on the South Canterbury economy become apparent, local Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith says.

“It will be felt for tourism and businesses will be working through the issues but the question will be how long it lasts.”

Mrs Smith said there were similarities to the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2002-03, which caused 349 deaths in mainland China and another 800 worldwide.

“This unfortunately is a reality of having a global economy.”

Ngai Tahu Tourism, which operates the Dark Sky Project at Tekapo, said it had received more than 6000 customer cancellations.

“At this stage we anticipate we will be up to 90% down on the China market for the month of February. The full impact is still uncertain but it will be significant,” Ngai Tahu Tourism chief executive Quinton Hal said.

“We have cancelled a number of our sales trips to Asia as a result of the situation and we will continue to reassess over the coming weeks and months. Our thoughts are with those who are affected. We have built up strong relationships in China over a number of years.”

He said it expected and hoped that the market would bounce back relatively quickly.

“Like most in the industry we are hurting. The timing of this could not have been worse with an already weak market, weather disruptions across a number of businesses in November and December, and the impact of the fires in Australia on tourism. The next few months will be tough.”

The Otago Chamber of Commerce has predicted the Otago economy could take a big hit due to the virus.

The chamber’s chief executive, Dougal McDowell, told the Otago Daily Times that, depending upon how long it lasted, the outbreak could cost the Dunedin and Otago economy millions, or even hundreds of millions, of dollars.

Mrs Smith said the economic impact of such an outbreak was really a matter for economists to determine, not chambers of commerce.

“Rather than us doing a litmus test, it’s up to the economists to do that test.”

Meanwhile, Auckland Business Chamber head Michael Barnett said a “perfect storm” was coming for meat and other traders.

“China is already cutting back on meat purchases, cool stores are filling up, and disrupted shipping to China will quickly see a backlog here.

“With New Zealand’s shortage of pasture due to weather, farmers will want to send stock to the works – but with cool stores full they could face problems getting stock processed quickly.”

New Zealand Forest Owners Association president Peter Weir said there was concern within the industry that if the virus infected more people in coastal towns and cities, access to Chinese ports could be restricted with little warning.

“We are most concerned about the effect on the harvesting workforce in many regions of New Zealand which depend on log exports,” he said.

Fishing company Sanfords spokeswoman Fiona MacMillan said generally the virus would not impact on it too significantly.

“We are not big in the crayfish business which is where most of the impact is being felt.”