The Nelson public meeting I hosted on the coronavirus with Mayors Rachel Reese and Tim King was sobering but informative. This global pandemic poses the greatest risk to our Nelson and Tasman region this year.
The impacts are already being felt by our forestry, tourism and education sectors. Forest workers are having their hours cut and some will soon face redundancy. Local tourism businesses are already facing cancellations. NMIT is facing an income loss of $1.5m with Chinese students unable to travel. There is also concerns in the fruit industry about the thousands of refrigerated containers stuck in Asian ports that are needed for exporting this season’s crop. Local manufacturers are concerned about the reduction of supply lines of essential components. Parts of the fishing industry like crayfish are being severely impacted by the stall in sales to China.
New Zealand has now been confirmed to have its first coronavirus case with one of our citizens returning from Iran being treated and in quarantine at Auckland Hospital. Two Nelson passengers on the same flight from Bali are in self-isolation.
Government’s response to the coronavirus was initially too slow. We were behind the US, UK and Australia in screening flights and in advising New Zealanders of the travel risks. I have had Nelson constituents contact me concerned about the inadequacy of airport screening. We need to lift our game to do everything possible to stop the disease spreading.
The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has given good advice for how our region can best cope. We need to be extra cautious if we have flu like symptoms in not going to school, work, or other places where we could spread the disease. We need to be extra vigilant with washing our hands in warm soapy water. Someone who suspects they may have the disease should not go unannounced to your doctor or hospitals for risk of spreading it. The Health Board is strongly encouraging people to get the flu vaccine prior to this winter, so as to reduce the pressures on our health system this winter so it is better able to cope with any cases of the coronavirus. They also wisely urge us to heed the advice from the Health Ministry website as the situation is uncertain and changing. People should be cautious of misinformation particularly on some social media.
There were constructive ideas from the meeting. We should consider a domestic tourism promotion as Australia is doing with Government support to encourage people to holiday locally in areas like Nelson and Tasman.
Government needs to support small businesses in hard hit areas like forestry as National did in the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes with a wage subsidy for a period if people start being made redundant. We may also need to consider supporting greater sick pay entitlements funded by Government if the disease does spread, so people will self-isolate, stay home and not spread the disease.
We need to work together so as to protect people’s health, businesses and jobs as much as humanly possible.