James Lee from Tomato Backpackers.
James Lee from Tomato Backpackers.

How the South Korean travel ban will impact Qld farms

A BUNDABERG businessman has responded to news of the Australian Government's ban on travellers from South Korea, saying he believes the farming industry can weather the storm for up to six months.

James Lee, who owns Tomato Backpackers and the adjoining café At James's Place, says the ban on travellers from his native country shouldn't pose too big an impact on farmers who rely on foreign workers to get their crops away.

A large number of overseas farm workers in Bundaberg hail from South Korea.

"If it goes for more than six months it will become an issue so we're hoping in a month it'll be under control," he said.
Mr Lee said he believed big cities were being more affected by concerns around the virus.

"At this moment, Bundaberg is OK," he said.

"If coronavirus is going to keep going, if people are trying to eat at home they'll buy local produce so maybe it's good for the farmers."

Mr Lee said his backpackers accommodated a number of people from different countries and said other hostels in the region had different ratios of different nationalities.

About 20 per cent of his workforce is from South Korea.

"We have a mixture of people here," he said.

"We pursue the Australian value of multiculturalism.

"Some backpackers here are fully reliant on Koreans and they will get some impact."

Mr Lee said staff at his backpackers were checking details with new workers when they arrived to ensure the best possible practice for safety.

Mr Lee said the travel ban placed on China on February 1 was of little concern to the region as China has a quota of just 5000 working holidaymakers.

South Korea has reported almost 6000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and around 35 deaths, but Mr Lee said the high overall number was the product of a stringent and fast medical system that ensured the rapid testing of thousands of people.

He described checking booths as being like "McDonald's drive-throughs".

"Compared with other countries we have more cases because we have a faster checking system," he said.

They are systems that were streamlined during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2015.

Mr Lee said South Korean people had been frustrated by the lack of an early travel ban on Chinese nationals into Korea, but he respected the Australian Government's latest travel ban.

He said he'd heard of negative impacts on businesses in bigger Australian cities, but his café had been going from strength to strength.

Australia currently has a travel ban on people arriving from China and Iran.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement this afternoon, adding there will also be tougher checks in place for people arriving from Italy, due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in emerging in the country.

"Today, we made a decision in relation to travel bands to continue the travel bands in relation to mainland China and in relation to Iran. We have also today decided that we will put in place a travel ban in relation to the Republic of Korea," Mr Morrison said.

"We will also put in place what our enhanced screening measures to deal with those travellers that have come from Italy."