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SINGAPORE — The impact of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak on Singapore’s aviation sector is likely to be worse than that of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Thursday (6 February).
This is due to China now being a “much larger source of tourism” for Singapore than before, he told reporters during a visit to Changi Airport.
Chinese travellers comprised 5 per cent of the airport’s traffic during the SARS period, and this has grown to 11 per cent today, Khaw said. Their increased purchasing power has contributed to one-third of Changi Airport’s retail sales, he added.
“And that one-third has evaporated, so one can imagine the difficulties,” said Khaw.
Air traffic between China and Singapore has fallen significantly, with flights down by 70 per cent to 80 per cent. The load factor of flights by local airlines from Singapore to China had also shrunk, with some flights reporting “below 20 to 30 per cent” full, he added.
The outbreak has hurt not only local airlines but also retailers in the airport, which employ some 7,000 to 8,000 staff. “My colleagues told me that Jewel is no longer the same... Footfall has come down a lot,” he said, referring to the airport’s newly opened mega-mall.
To mitigate the business impact of the outbreak, Khaw said that the government will unveil a “strong” assistance package during the Budget to help the aviation sector.
Having spoken to some retailers during his visit, Khaw said he advised them to not “waste” the lull period caused by the outbreak.
“It’s a good time (to introduce) programmes where you need to train up your staff. Re-train them, re-skill them,” he said.