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By now we ought to all understand that the coronavirus is not ‘‘just’’ a problem for China, it is a truly global problem. It is not ‘‘just’’ a virus hurting the Chinese, it is — and always has been — a virus with the capacity to hurt all people.
And, if we take heed of the warnings, it is an economic problem that threatens to affect many Southerners and endure much longer than the immediate, headline-grabbing future.
Nonetheless, social media and news website comments sections — those twin forces of reasoned discussion and debate — remain alive with keyboard ‘‘experts’’ and half-baked reckonings buying into a wave of xenophobic nonsense not seen since after the Christchurch mosque attacks.
Their off-the-mark and often off-colour comments are as erroneous as they are offensive, and they do not deserve to be republished here. But we must acknowledge that no manner of race-baiting, conspiracy theory or other whataboutery makes this anything other than a shared crisis — no matter how insulated and isolated New Zealand may appear.
As of yesterday, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Zealand. There had been the odd scare over the past week but, as the country waited for Air New Zealand to arrive with Kiwis airlifted from Wuhan, China, it was clear irrational fear and prejudice were making victims of the otherwise uninfected.
In a widely commented-on LinkedIn post, Aucklander Junior Lim this week wrote about a fellow domestic flight passenger asking him whether he had just come back from China, and about hearing people at an airport telling their children not to stand too close to Chinese people.
“It is upsetting how the coronavirus outbreak is being used to legitimise racism,” Mr Lim wrote.
“I went on two domestic flights this weekend and even though I have lived in New Zealand for over 28 years, I was made to feel like I no longer belong.”
Other New Zealanders have been affected by attitudes much more virulent than the virus. In Rolleston, a malicious emailer accused a woman’s children of spreading viruses. ‘‘Protect Rolleston’’ told the woman, who was of Chinese ancestry, to keep her ‘‘virus spreaders’’ at home.
These petty acts of racism are the virus’ unnecessary travelling companions. It is lamentable that they should be volunteered when the virus already promises to do so much damage to so many people, no matter how long they have spent in New Zealand.
Plenty has been said about the potential economic impact of the sudden slowdown in Chinese tourism to New Zealand and the South, but the past few days — and the Government’s decision to temporarily impose entry restrictions on all foreign nationals travelling from, or transiting through, mainland China — have seen that talk turn to reality.
In Wanaka, tourist attraction Puzzling World detailed the potential hit on a market that provided 70% to 80% of its business at this time of year; Destination Queenstown expected a ‘‘significant effect’’; and the Otago Chamber of Commerce expected it could cost the regional economy ‘‘hundreds of millions of dollars’’.
Nationally, forestry leaders warn at least 1000 jobs may be affected as log exports dwindle and meat process workers worry about how much work would come their way as long as the flow of product into China is slowed at the border. Universities are waiting to see how many fee-paying Chinese students will arrive for their first semester.
Their collective losses could take many months to recoup, if at all.
The Government also faces an anxious wait. Chinese officials have called the decision to restrict visitor movement ‘‘disappointing’’ and, in the ODT yesterday, Chinese Consul General Wang Zhijian warned ‘‘not only China but New Zealand will also suffer heavy economic losses and friendly ties between our peoples may be hampered. We should guard against overreaction that may result in more negative spillover effects’’.
Whatever the case, it is clear even a virus-free New Zealand will not emerge from the current crisis unscathed.