Coronavirus: The multimillion-dollar cost of blocking Chinese tourists from New Zealand

Chinese tourists bring $180 million to New Zealand each month in the peak travel periods of January through to April - millions of dollars the economy is missing out on with the coronavirus travel ban. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson made the revelation in a speech on Thursday, outlining how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the New Zealand economy since the ban was introduced a month ago. 

"We are operating in an environment of high uncertainty. It is not possible for anyone at this stage to give definitive answers to significant questions, such as: How long will it last? What will the global reach be? How deep will the impact be felt?"

The minister said while the Government looks for answers for those questions, he can say some things with certainty: "This will have a serious impact on the New Zealand economy in the short term."

He added, "It is clear that there is an immediate impact on the tourism industry, particularly given there are now very few flights between China and New Zealand."

Early this month, the Government placed "temporary entry restrictions into New Zealand on all foreign nationals travelling from, or transiting through mainland China" to avoid a coronavirus outbreak. 

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that flights from China would continue to be banned for a further eight days amid the outbreak and that the policy would continue to be reviewed. 

The Prime Minister said on the following day that the Government is not considering a ban on any other nations, including South Korea where more than 900 cases have been confirmed. 

Ardern said mainland China has been the epicentre of human-to-human transmission of the virus, officially named COVID-19. It originated in Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei Province in central China. 

So far, no cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in New Zealand. The only New Zealanders to contract the virus were aboard a cruise ship in Japan. 

But New Zealand is a small trading nation, in a world where stock markets are tumbling amid investor concerns over the spreading virus, which has so far killed more than 2600 people worldwide and infected more than 80,000. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub

ASB analysis on Thursday said China has increased its dominance as New Zealand's leading export destination, highlighting the export sector's exposure to coronavirus impacts. 

"Within education exports, our tertiary sector has been impacted due to foreign students not travelling," Robertson said. "The estimates we have are that around 40 percent of students have not been able to travel here."

The Government is considering lifting the travel ban for students with input from the tertiary sector to "see what they can do to make sure New Zealanders' public health isn't put at risk". 

An $11 million fund was set up last week to help identify new markets and opportunities as visitor numbers from China remain low due to the public health travel ban.

Robertson said the further the virus spreads and the longer it lasts, the more the country moves into a scenario where it will have an economic impact right across 2020. 

"I've been clear from a couple of weeks ago that the first two quarters of this year will be ones where growth will be hard to come by anywhere in the global economy," he told reporters. 

Robertson said the Government is currently assessing whether to include fiscal stimulus in Budget 2020. He said if things got bad, the Government would consider tax relief or income support. 

He pointed to the recent infrastructure announcement as something that could stimulate the economy when the projects get underway. 

"We go into this with our official interest rate higher than many other advanced economies," Robertson said. "We go into this with very low Government debt compared to the rest of the world."

ACT leader David Seymour said the "serious economic impact of coronavirus will now require stimulus in the form of tax cuts or higher spending".