Virus impact still uncertain

Uncertainty over coronavirus impact in major markets


The effects of COVID-19 on Australia's meat exports may not be evident for some time, writes Ken Wilcock.


FOLLOWING the devastating impact on trade from the coronavirus-induced lockdown in China, the question now facing Australian meat exporters is whether they can expect more of the same in the other major export market destinations of Japan, South Korea and the United States.

As one of the first countries outside China to be hit by coronavirus, there was a high expectation that Japan would succumb, with numbers affected drawing comparison to China's Wuhan.

But so far it hasn't happened.

Unlike Italy and Spain, Japan sits closer to Singapore and Hong Kong in terms of how well the country has managed to avoid the spread of infection and this has health experts puzzled.

The reason being that with the exception of school closures and cancellation of large events, Japan has not imposed a lockdown nor embraced the aggressive case-finding and containment policies that have worked for Singapore and Hong Kong.

For much of the population there has been no insistence on social distancing with commuter trains still packed at peak hour and people generally going about their business very much as normal.

The government seems convinced that it is succeeding in containing the spread with only 1000 confirmed cases as of last Sunday compared to Italy's 47,000 and South Korea's 8800.

One possibility is that Japan, as claimed by its government, has been successful in containing the spread by focusing on outbreak clusters.

Also, there may be a cultural factor insomuch that handshaking and other forms of close-contact greetings are not commonly practised. Japanese people are also inclined to wash their hands more often than their European (and Australian) counterparts.

But there is another line of thinking as expressed in the Japan Times on the weekend by Kentaro Iwata, professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University.

He doubts that Japan has contained the virus.

Rather he believes they are not even in a position to judge whether they have contained it because they simply have not carried out enough testing.

The upshot is that there may be outbreaks yet to be found, suggesting the previously expected explosion is still to come.

If Japan has been misguided in believing that its containment approach has been successful and rapid escalation does occur, there will need to be a rapid shift to a delay-the-peak strategy and that may well mean lockdown with all that it entails for importing, processing, distribution and consumption of beef as occurred in China.

In nearby South Korea, the authorities appear to have greatly slowed the epidemic through a mammoth effort to trace, test and quarantine a massive cluster of 5054 cases associated with the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

This collective cluster centred on the Daegu-Gyeongbuk region accounts for around 56 per cent of all of Korea's infections to date.

Since the first positive test on February 18, the Shincheonji cluster is now coming under control but new clusters are emerging, according to commentary and research journal Science.

This may be because the Shincheonji effort distracted attention from other parts of Korea and the concern now is that these new infections could be the initiation of community spread.

Such uncertainty suggests the Korean outbreak may not have peaked despite the recent slowing.

However the government appears confident it can control these new clusters as it did with Shincheonji and without the extreme lockdown measures China resorted to in order to bring its epidemic under control.

There may be outbreaks yet to be found [in Japan], suggesting the previously expected explosion is still to come.

Korea does after all have the most expansive and well-organised testing program in the world combined with similar capacity as Singapore to isolate infected people and trace and quarantine their contacts.

In contrast to Japan and Korea, the situation in the US looks particularly bleak.

Economists are widely talking of recession with the services sector hardest hit and an unemployment rate of 10pc by April.

If accurate, that means 16.5 million people out of work compared to 5.8 million in February.

Foodservice will feel the pain and unfortunately that is where most of Australia's beef exports go.

Control measures being imposed in saleyards

Southern Downs Regional Council has imposed a raft of control measures for Warwick saleyards to combat the threat of COVID-19.

Southern Downs Regional Council has imposed a raft of control measures for Warwick saleyards to combat the threat of COVID-19.

CLOSER to home, the increasing threat posed by coronavirus is resulting in the imposition of control measures at saleyards across the country.

Typical of what is happening is the adoption this week by Southern Downs Regional Council of the following measures for Warwick saleyards.

  • All persons attending the Warwick saleyards will be required to wear disposable gloves. Council will distribute the gloves upon entry to avoid contact with all steel surfaces, double handling of paper etc. Anyone who does not adhere to the protocol will be asked to leave the premises.
  • The main access gate will be locked and only available to trucks with an Avdata key.
  • All other vehicles will enter via a manned gate at the workshop to allow Council to record attendee's details, distribute mandatory disposable gloves and advise of social distancing requirements.
  • The canteen operator will supply only take-away meals. No sit down meals will be available.
  • There will be restricted access to cattle catwalks. A total of 23 entry and exit points will be closed to the general public. Council will erect "No Access" signs for each of these points. Only auctioneers will be allowed in the catwalk area.
  • The Scale House will likely operate with only one staff member due to confined space. The weighing process will be slower as a result.
  • The server window will be closed and any reports for agents will be provided through the pigeon holes in order to reduce any unnecessary contact.
  • Any persons observed to be unwell or have a cough will be asked to leave.
  • Only buyers, agents and yard staff in attendance will be allowed at saleyards. All other non-essential persons are requested not to attend the sale. Buyers wishing to participate in the sales are encouraged to engage their preferred agent or commission buyer.

The story Virus impact still uncertain first appeared on Farm Online.


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