As coronavirus looms, Australian politicians encourage domestic tourism instead

In Melbourne, some have already adopted face masks.
In Melbourne, some have already adopted face masks.
Image: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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The 2020s are off to an inauspicious start for the land once known as the Lucky Country. In the first month of the year, Australia saw significant drought and the worst wildfires in its history, which decimated native wildlife and produced about 900 million metric tons of carbon emissions. In what would ordinarily be high tourism season, visitor numbers have slumped due to the fires.

Now, the threat of coronavirus is taking yet another swing at the country’s economy. For travelers coming from Europe and Asia alike, mainland China is an obvious and convenient stopping point. But due to the crisis, only Australian citizens are currently allowed to board flights to Australia out of China, sending daily visitor numbers into Melbourne down to about 700 from the usual 5,000. Under normal circumstances, more than 100,000 Chinese tourists visit Australia each month.

International education is Australia’s third largest international export, worth AU$32.4 billion ($21.7 billion) to the economy. February would typically mark the start of the academic year and the arrival of tens of thousands of Chinese students attending Australian universities. But the flight ban is likely to prevent at least half of these students from traveling to Australia to resume their studies.

Speaking today (Feb. 2) to domestic broadcaster Sky News, Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton urged Australians to think carefully about international travel. “We need Australians, frankly, if they are considering a holiday at the moment, to reconsider whether an outbound overseas trip is what they want to do,” he said. “If they’ve thought about seeing parts of Australia, now might be a good time to book that holiday.”

Coronavirus is already on Australian shores, with 12 confirmed cases as of yesterday.