Concern as effects of virus start to bite

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Otago Chamber chief executive Dougal McGowan

A word from Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan

Two weeks ago in my article I discussed the importance of having a work continuity plan.

This is where each organisation has a pre-rehearsed plan of what they will do if an event causes disruption to their work, workers and business, making them unable to carry out their normal business operations. What a difference that a couple of weeks can make. During that time we have seen the coronavirus or Covid-19, really start to have an impact here in our country and our region. Borders were closed by the Government which effectively stopped the flow of people during a time each year that we see the world’s largest migration of people moving around the globe. The effects are instantaneous.

Tourist numbers have been drastically hit during a time when the target market of the Chinese New Year celebrations got under way. Not only did it affect tourists but international students who weren’t in the country were all of a sudden left stranded and wondering what it meant for them. Following on over the next couple of weeks we have seen the export market for fresh goods drop off to a minimum with limited access to shipping and Chinese ports and now we are seeing the effects on our primary sector deepen with product and logs unable in some cases to be delivered or off loaded at their destination.

Now many businesses were able to react and immediately engage with other partners to create additional markets but this is not easy in the quantities that are now available. In some cases this has meant that work has stopped or at least reduced so that an oversupply does not occur. However, the downside if this continues, is we start to see a slowing of the economy and people being laid off from their jobs. We are now seeing the effects that it is having on local manufacturing and engineering, where key components are not able to be supplied and thus work has slowed or stopped. China has become the main supply chain for so many of our goods, either in full or the parts that they contribute to, that the effects are being felt wider than just tourism.

Yes, tourism is vital to the economy of this country and the double whammy of floods affecting our jewels in the tourism crown also haven’t helped but where was the Government’s business continuity plan? Where was their activation plan to engage, support and comfort businesses who right now are really hurting right across the sector? Recently they announced an $11 million in support for tourism million to diversify the marketing portfolio to other countries, the other million to promote local tourism. Nothing to support the businesses or the employees they support. This some three weeks after the closure but with nothing off the shelf ready to go.

I think it’s time the Government looked at the pressures on business, still low business confidence, increased costs and decreased profits. And say listening and we will delay the increase in minimum wage for a period of time

Surely people being engaged in meaningful employment and earning a wage is better than them joining the unemployed queues.