While the threat of the novel coronavirus in Australia is low, the fear of it is “literally killing jobs and businesses”, the executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, Russell Zimmerman, has warned.
Mr Zimmerman reported that retail, tourism and hospitality operators — especially Chinese restaurants — are facing downturns of 50–70 per cent, before making an impassioned call for public support, saying, “Livelihoods are at stake.”
“The ARA urges Australians to show their support for local businesses — be they retail, tourism or hospitality based — in the face of what seems like just the latest in a list of threats to their viability,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“We understand people may be frightened by news reports about coronavirus they may have seen or read, but we would add that the actual risk to the public in Australia at this time appears very, very low.”
Mr Zimmerman opined that while things may change, for now it seems Australian fears are premature, but are having a big impact.
He warned that livelihoods are at stake, with many empty restaurants and businesses struggling to stay open following the affects of drought, bushfires, floods and now the coronavirus.
“There are livelihoods at stake here: those of the hardworking mums and dads who’ve put everything on the line to open a business, and those of the staff they employ whose jobs are in real danger of being lost,” he said.
“If we lose iconic local retailers, or tourist operators offering unique experiences, or loved restaurants and cafés that are forced to close, we won’t get them back — and that compounds the potential loss here.”
Mr Zimmerman said unless public health bulletins directed otherwise, the best thing people could do was to go about their lives and support businesses that underpinned communities in cities and towns across the country.
“I just implore people to keep a sense of perspective and to be realistic: right now the risk from the coronavirus in Australia is minimal, and I urge Australians not to turn their backs on businesses that have already faced significant headwinds this summer when one more blow could prove fatal,” Mr Zimmerman concluded.
‘Seek help now’
Last week, an insolvency specialist urged businesses to “seek help before it’s too late”.
National insolvency and business recovery specialist Jirsch Sutherland predicted that having already suffered the affects of the slowdown in China’s GDP, the Australian economy will bear the brunt of the virus, with worry increasing among businesses in the tourism and retail sectors.
“There is a number of knock-on effects, such as falling demand for Australian produce, such as seafood, which affects food suppliers; local Asian restaurants being shunned (some have temporarily closed); and international university students delaying coming back to their courses. And then there’s the domino effect on landlords, restaurants and cafés,” explained Bradd Morelli, national managing partner, Jirsch Sutherland.
According to Kee Guan-Saw, current chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Victoria (CCCV), the longer the coronavirus is a threat, the greater the number of Australian businesses that will be affected.
“We have clients in the tourism and food and beverage sectors that are already being impacted, and while they are currently handling the situation — for example, the F&B businesses are getting staff to take annual leave — if this is a prolonged crisis, then the impact will become greater,” Mr Kee noted.
Kee believes the situation will get worse and that “cooperation” is crucial.
“A lot of cooperation is needed to help businesses survive,” he added. “For example, landlords and banks need to ‘chip in’ to provide support, such as allowing delayed payment of rent and loans, or by implementing payment plans.”