Gisborne residents plead for help as coronavirus decimates economy

An east coast logging contractor has told Newshub he's losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every month as the trading effects of the coronavirus wreak havoc.

It's estimated 300 people are being laid off or having their hours reduced on the east coast alone from an industry critical to the regional economy.

They're demanding the Government do more to help them.

Robert Stubbs says this is about as tough as it gets - COVID-19 has halved the income from his forestry contracting company. 

"For our company as a dollar figure, we're gonna lose half-a-million dollars in cash flow each month," he told Newshub. 

And as work dries up he's laying off staff by the week.

"It's very tough when you've got to put them up on the whiteboard and decide which ones have got to go," he said. 

So far he has laid off two entire crews and his remaining teams are cutting back production.

The problem is Chinese ports have come to a standstill because workers are being kept at home.

There's no room for our exports which meaning work in New Zealand shuts down too.

It's a major blow to locals in Gisborne where forestry is the lifeblood of the economy.

Tina Haig and Desmond Harrison have bet their life-savings on the trees.

"We're getting married in 25 days and what's happening is starting to chip away at my stress levels because now I'm dipping into our marriage savings," Haig told Newshub.

They've sold their home to buy an almost $200,000 logging truck and while it sits still, there's no income in the weeks before their wedding.

"I'm just telling myself it's going to get better, but we don't actually know. We have to hope for the best," said Haig.

Staff at the Gisborne port are on reduced hours as well.

For the month of March the port would usually expect to have 12 or 13 bookings for logs to be taken overseas. So far this month they only have three.

It's not just loggers, but manufacturers, tyre shops and even cafes that rely on the forestry.

There is some relief at hand from the central government. 

Money has been allocated to the Regional Business Partners programme to offer business advice, and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is helping find alternative jobs for people.

But both Stubbs and Haig are waiting to see if more help is coming.

Minister of Economic Development Phil Twyford visited Gisborne yesterday - noting he heard stories of people who now feel suicidal.

He told Newshub on Wednesday there is help for people.

"We're not looking at cash injections other than what the welfare system already provides," said Twyford.

"MSD are really active on the ground providing job seeker grants and other hardship systems to people also working with employers and employees to match people to jobs."

So while coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the world it's hoped its effect on the health of Gisborne's economy will improve - before even more people are forced out of work.