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New coronavirus taking its toll

Editorial

A glimmer of hope for the local forestry industry with news that some log exports will resume next week caps a week of turmoil for many business owners, workers and their families.

Uncertainty will unfortunately continue for some time, although the situation at China's ports and for its wood processing industry should start to become clearer through next week as workers return from the extended holiday enacted across the country to help limit the spread of this new virus. The resumption of business will take time because of continuing travel restrictions, though, and could be impacted by further enforced downtime if authorities deem that necessary.

It is not just the coronavirus that has hobbled the forestry industry, though. It will take time for a global oversupply of soft wood to unwind . . . and no doubt even longer for the local industry to diversify meaningfully from its reliance on China, which takes 85 percent of the logs leaving our port.

There was some positive news on the coronavirus outbreak overnight, with 3731 new cases reported on Thursday down from 3924 the previous day — although the World Health Organisation said it was too early to declare a peak in the spread of this virus.

So far the novel coronavirus (named 2019-nCoV) appears to be killing about 2 percent of people infected. This compares with a 9.6 percent death rate for the SARS coronavirus epidemic of 2002-03 that infected 8098 people worldwide (5327 in China) and killed 774.

Reported 2019-nCoV cases have now reached 31,537 and most new infections continue to be in Hebei province in central China, where about 60 million people are under an unprecedented quarantine.

Outside mainland China there have been 325 cases so far, most of them in Asia — including one death in Hong Kong and one death in the Philippines. The total death toll is now 638, while 4826 of those infected (15 percent) are listed as being in a critical condition and 1780 have recovered.

While many workers in this district are being affected by the effort to stem this epidemic, it is worth noting the impact of SARS on the New Zealand economy was estimated at just 0.1 percent of GDP — although China now accounts for 19 percent of the country's two-way trade in goods and services, about four times the proportion in 2003. Our principal exports are dairy products ($4.7 billion) followed by meat and wood products, worth about $3 billion each.