Singapore braces for ‘significant’ impact on tourism as coronavirus cases rise

Health, Fitness & Food

Singapore — among the countries with the most confirmed cases of the new coronavirus — is increasingly feeling the heat as the number of infected cases climbs.

The impact on the tourism sector will be “significant” as tourists from mainland China accounted for 20% of Singapore’s total international visitors last year, said Keith Tan, chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board.

“The Chinese economy is a lot more significant now than it was 17 years ago during SARS. And … in 2003, for tourism, China accounted for just 9% of our international visitor arrivals,” he told CNBC Thursday. “Now it’s about 20%. So the direct impact, everyday this lasts, will be more significant than SARS.”

The latest coronavirus outbreak, thought to have originated from a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has brought back memories of SARS. During the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003, regional economies including Singapore were sent into a tailspin.

On Thursday, two new cases were announced, which took Singapore’s total confirmed cases to 30, according to the health ministry. The youngest patient so far is a six-month-old baby.

Medical staff walk to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases building at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore on January 31, 2020.

Roslan Rahman | APF | Getty Images

Singapore bars travelers from China

As the current outbreak worsened, China in January ordered travel agencies to stop organizing tours to other countries. Last week, Singapore began barring those arriving from mainland China, if they had been there in the past 14 days, from entry or transit. Authorities also stopped issuing visas to those with a Chinese passport.

Singapore will now focus on reaching out to other markets in attracting a “good share of non-China markets,” Tan said.

He pointed out that Singapore already has a good mix of visitors from other regions — with around 30% from other parts of Southeast Asia and another one-third from the rest of the world. Northeast Asia, which includes China, also makes up about a third of the total number of visitors.

‘Doubling down’ on hygiene efforts

Tan said the government is now rallying on efforts to protect visitors by ramping up its hygiene standards.

“We have to shore up defenses,” he said, adding that the government is “doubling down” on a clean-up at hotels and attractions.

“In many ways we are in a better place with this outbreak 17 years on,” said Lim Poh Lian of Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

“Many of the public health measures that we have taken have controlled outbreaks in the past, even outbreaks for which we had no effective anti-virals or vaccines,” she told CNBC on Thursday.

She said the country had two to three weeks of advance warning before the first cases were detected, adding that was “helpful” for preparation.

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