Coronavirus: Tourism industry 'moving towards complete devastation' after border closure

New Zealand's $40 billion tourism industry is on the brink of collapse as the spread of coronavirus continues to send shockwaves around the world.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would be shutting its borders to non-residents.

The new rules came into effect at 11:59pm on Thursday, and followed a move over the weekend requiring all people entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days.

Only New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, and their families, will now be allowed into the country. 

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts says international and domestic travel is now down to almost zero.

"We are moving towards a complete devastation of the tourism industry with no tourism happening to any degree at all in New Zealand."

He is warning that thousands of jobs in the industry will be lost. 

"Four-hundred-thousand jobs are at risk and at least 100,000 will disappear. That's going to happen in the next few weeks," Roberts told Newshub.

Tourism New Zealand's chief executive Stephen England-Hall said although no new tourists were arriving in the country, there were still some here who had arrived previously.

"We have a number of visitors who spend 12 or more weeks in New Zealand when they come in so there are a few people who are still here," he told The AM Show.

He also said workers in the industry were feeling the pressure.

"A large number of tourism operators big and small will be under significant financial stress, without question. And of course, if they're under stress their employees will also be feeling that strain and many of them, of course, face the very real risk around their employment." 

The industry would effectively have to start again from scratch once the pandemic was over, he said.

Earlier this week, the Government announced a $12.1 billion economic package to support companies and workers most affected by the fallout of the virus. Almost half of the funding is to provide wage subsidies, while the health sector will also get a cash injection to help frontline services deal with COVID-19.

Despite the harm to the economy caused by the virus and border closures, experts have warned that failing to act and leaving our borders open will do far more harm to the economy in the long-term. 

New Zealand has 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, with all of those originating overseas.

Ardern said the fact that the virus was coming in from other countries was a major factor in the decision to close the borders. 

Customs at Auckland Airport was overrun on Friday with Kiwis arriving home from overseas.
Customs at Auckland Airport was overrun on Friday with Kiwis arriving home from overseas. Photo credit: Jimmy James Ferguson

So far there have been no proven cases of community transmission in the country, though health officials have said they are preparing for a rise in cases to be found here as testing ramps up.

Roberts says despite the current economic downturn, he is confident the industry can eventually bounce back.

"There will be a recovery, there is light at the end of the tunnel. What we need to ensure is that as many of our businesses as possible can survive."

So far there have been more than 230,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with the death toll standing at more than 9300.