Travel sector feeling hit of coronavirus, but impact so far falls short of SARS

A deadly new virus that emerged in China is raising concerns beyond the public health sphere as experts warn about the potential economic cost of a global outbreak that is already drawing comparisons to the deadly SARS epidemic 17 years ago.

Transportation and tourism companies have seen declines in share prices amid travel warnings and restrictions from governments around the world hoping to avoid a repeat of the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which cost the Canadian economy an estimated US$4 billion.

At least 17 people have died and more than 500 have been infected by the ailment called novel coronavirus, whose early cases are linked to a market in Wuhan in central China. The World Health Organization postponed until Thursday a decision on whether to declare an international emergency over the outbreak of the flu-like illness, which can cause pneumonia and other severe respiratory symptoms, including one case in the United States.

“The cost to the global economy can be quite staggering, in negative GDP terms, if this outbreak reaches epidemic proportions as until this week, the market was underestimating the potential of the flu spreading,” Stephen Innes, chief Asian strategist for AxiCorp, said in a report.

The travel sector has already started to feel the hit as shares of four North American airlines that fly to China, including Air Canada, fell on Tuesday amid growing anxiety about the viral infection.

None of the airlines fly directly to Wuhan, but their Chinese partner airlines do, and some passengers transfer from a Chinese carrier to a Canadian one, offering the potential for the virus to spread here.

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