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Khaw: Aviation sector will be hit harder than during Sars

China now accounts for larger share of tourist numbers and retail spending here than before.

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Updated: February 7, 2020

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, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

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, the Chinese 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, he said.

Of particular concern is the retail sector at Changi Airport, with about 7,000 to 8,000 staff employed there, he noted.

Many families would be affected if companies start retrenching their staff, he added.

Mr Khaw said China travellers accounted for 5 per cent of Changi Airport’s travelling traffic during the Sars crisis.

“Now, they account for 11 per cent, so it is 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 – Singa-pore 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 per cent to 80 per cent, and traffic volume has come down by 60 per cent to 70 per cent, he noted.

“The loading of our own carriers to China has come down a lot. Some flights are below 20 per cent to 30 per cent,” he said.

The minister then gave the assurance that the Transport Ministry is working “very feverishly” with the Ministry of Finance to develop a package to help those in the aviation sector.

He did not elaborate on the help package, but said it will be “meaningful and effective”.

Mr Khaw said that shops could take this time to upskill their staff to prepare for when the situation improves.

He also suggested that with reduced activity at the airport, Changi could look into speeding up part of the construction of Terminal 5.

Businesses at Jewel Changi Airport said the crowd at the complex has noticeably thinned.

On Sunday, a staff member at a baby clothes shop in Jewel said: “It was the first time the mall was so quiet on the weekend.”

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About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

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