Coronavirus making wool business hard at home and abroad

Terry Sim, March 11, 2020

CORONAVIRUS impacts are widening on Australian wool industry bodies as organisations consider the infection risks with meetings planned domestically and overseas.

Research, development and marketing company Australian Wool Innovation has had staff in several of its overseas offices working from home for week, consistent with the lockdown restrictions in the various countries.

This week AWI advised it had cancelled a Flystrike Technical Forum planned for 2 April in Sydney due to the risk of the coronavirus or COVID-19 as it has been named.

An AWI spokesman said the company valued highly the health and welfare of all its staff and visitors.

“And that is why we are acting responsibly by trying to protect them from any unnecessary risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“It is intended to reschedule this important forum to later in the year and attendees will be advised of the proposed new date once available,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said AWI staff in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Italy have been working from home in response to health concerns, although no employees have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

AWI staff in China have been working from their homes since February 3, in northern Italy from February 24 and in Hong Kong, Japan and Korea since late last month, in line with directions from local authorities. The duration of these restrictions depended on future advice of the authorities.

“AWI continues to monitor the situation closely which is constantly changing and providing an enormous challenge to individuals, governments and businesses alike,” the spokesman said.

AWI has also attached a statement on all emails that “due to the intensified situation for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) globally, Australian Wool Innovation/The Woolmark Company (AWI/TWC) is taking all precautions necessary to provide a safe working environment for all staff and guests”.

“If you have travelled to any moderate to high risk countries recently, please do not visit the AWI / TWC offices until you can ensure you have not tested positive for COVID-19. Please see the Australian Department of Health alert for the current list of at risk countries,” the statement says.

Italian travel ban announced

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also today announced a travel ban on Italian visitors from 6pm tonight, adding to bans already in place for travellers from Iran, South Korea and China. Australian residents returning from Italy will be exempt from the travel ban, but must undergo a period of isolation period. All of Italy has been locked down with travel restrictions as the country today reported it had more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus and 631 have died.  Australia has 112 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including three deaths.

The world coronavirus outbreak is also expected to impact other wool company celebrations in Australia planned for coming months which were to be attended by international processor and brand representatives. The global outbreak is also expected to impact the International Wool Textile Organisation’s 2020 Congress in Brussels on 21-23 May, which would normally be attended by stakeholders from throughout the world, including Australia.

New England Wool principals cancel celebration and travel plans

New England Wool managing director Andrew Blanch said the company had planned to hold a 30th anniversary celebration on 14 March, which was to have included its shareholder representatives, including the founding individuals and partners from Italy.

“The decision to postpone was done in early February, so well before Italy became the issue it has today.

“At that point in February, a number of the prominent Italians were going to incorporate a trip to China for an important textile fair, into their itinerary to come to Sydney for our function,” he said.

“The virus outbreak in China necessitated the postponement of that fair, and the decision by both CEOs of our shareholder companies to remain in Italy, coupled with a basic feeling that it would be prudent to cut unnecessary overseas travel until conditions improved or were better understood.

“Since that time, the situation has only escalated and all our Italian friends have since cancelled any overseas trips, including to Australia and New Zealand.”

Mr Blanch said no new date has been set for the 30th anniversary event and the shutdown of Italy and Australia’s travel ban meant no travel between the countries would occur now for an unknown period.

“To understand the total affect the virus is having, or will have on business going forward is anyone’s guess.

“Right now, wool is still being shipped to Italy, and being processed and shipped in and out of Italy,” he said.

“However, with each day comes a different situation so I cannot comment on where things go from here.

“We have a few interrelated issues at play here; the safety and protection of staff and their families, the effect on productivity if staff cannot turn up for work and the effect on business based on the orders arriving/not arriving from customers around the world, and that is dependent on how those customers businesses are being affected by the virus,” Mr Blanch said.

“It’s a complex set of scenarios.”

National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia executive director Chris Wilcox said wool industry people would be cautious about undertaking any international travel. He was aware of some Australian brokers who had postponed overseas trips planned for April.

“The decision to go ahead with Brussels was only taken 10 days ago, yet we’ve seen a huge change in Italy, for example, so it’s such a moving feast.”

WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said the organisation is monitoring the situation and would decide on its attendance oat various events a case-by-case basis.


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  1. Jack Cleary, March 11, 2020

    “Wool industry people would be cautious about undertaking any international travel” said Chris Wilcox. Be decisive — “I will not travel.”

    What kind of person would, to please themselves or company or organisation or family would risk not just themselves…owing to a wavering, maybe, stupid decision to travel in this high risk period, but perhaps bring back disease affecting or killing numerous others? In my view, people who travel overseas in this climate should be refused re-entry into Australia for a punitive period for being irresponsible in putting others at risk.

    In OHS news today, Qantas is being nailed for improper and inadequate cleaning and not protecting cleaners. When will they ever learn?

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