Coronavirus: Impact on aviation sector will be worse than Sars outbreak, says Khaw Boon Wan

The taxi queue at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on Feb 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - The impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the aviation sector will be worse than that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Thursday (Feb 6).

This is because China is now a much larger market and a much larger source of tourism for Singapore and the region, he said during a visit to Changi Airport.

In terms of retail spending, they make up one-third of Changi Airport's retail sales.

With this in mind, the Government is working on a Budget that will help support the sector and measures are set to be announced later this month.

Of particular concern is the retail side at Changi Airport, with about 7,000 to 8,000 staff employed there, said Mr Khaw.

Companies would have to retrench and cut back on their workforce if they are not doing well, and this would affect many families, he noted.

He said: "During Sars, China travellers accounted for 5 per cent of Changi Airport's traffic. Now they account for 11 per cent, so it's double in terms of percentage and even more by absolute numbers.

"But the purchasing power has increased even more... They account for one-third of retail sales in Changi, and the one-third has evaporated."

He said local airlines - Singapore Airlines, Scoot and SilkAir - are also suffering along with retail shops.

"The traffic between China and Singapore has come down significantly because flights have shrunk 70 to 80 per cent, traffic volume has come down by 60 to 70 per cent.

"The loading of our own carriers to China has come down a lot. Some flights are below 20 to 30 per cent."

During his visit, many shops told Mr Khaw that the drop in Chinese tourists had hit them hard.

In response, Mr Khaw said shops could take this time to send their staff for retraining to help prepare them for when the situation improves. He also encouraged staff to practise good hygiene habits.

Businesses at Jewel Changi Airport told The Straits Times that the crowd at the complex has noticeably thinned with travel restrictions kicking in and the growing severity of the virus' spread.

On Sunday, a staff member at a baby clothes shop in Jewel said: "We haven't seen a single Chinese (customer) today and they usually make up quite a lot of our business. There are also much fewer locals bringing their children and having lunch here.

"It is the first time the mall was so quiet on the weekend that just passed."

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