The North Country Chamber of Commerce discussed concerns about the coronavirus and its impact on the business community this afternoon. Concerns have spiked after the premier of Quebec announced advisory measures that would restrict cross border trade and tourism.
The province of Quebec was up to 13 confirmed cases of the coronavirus Friday. On Thursday provincial Premier Francois Legault announced advisory measures to curb further spread of the disease. Among them is a self-quarantine for anyone who has traveled outside of the province upon their return.
Clinton County, New York is on Quebec’s southern border and North Country Chamber President and CEO Garry Douglas says the announcement caught them by surprise.
“To have effectively residents of Quebec in essence being told by their government, not in a mandatory way but it still matters and is certainly going to resonate, basically you should not travel to the U.S. anymore until this is over and we advise otherwise. That's essentially what was said. We reached out immediately to our friends in the Quebec government, and they are our friends, to express a couple of concerns. One: friends shouldn't catch friends by surprise. They apologized for that. That's water under the bridge.”
Douglas also discussed clarifications and the potential impacts to cross border trade with Quebec’s Minister of International Affairs. “Their announcement actually created a lot of confusion. I'll give you a couple of examples. There are what is known as Trade-NAFTA visas. And so traditionally through the years there have been many RN’s who have crossed the border to work in our hospitals in Burlington and Plattsburgh. They read that and say well does this mean I lose my job? I can't go to work. And what about the truck driver? You've just told the truck driver who on a daily basis is transporting things back and forth across the border but he's going to work one day out of every 15. We're having a conversation with the Quebec government about this.”
Chamber officials say small businesses are getting nervous as the impact of coronavirus remains uncertain. Vice President of Marketing Kristy Kennedy explained that they are planning a shop local campaign to boost local business. “Shopping local is always important, but right now it's a little bit more important than ever. So stop supporting per-se the online retailors look in your own backyard. Go support them. Help keep them afloat in this time when the traffic may slow down.”
State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones of the 115th district has introduced a small business tax reduction bill in Albany. He says looking beyond public health and safety, local businesses will face lasting impacts from the pandemic. “There's cancellations of events. There's other things. There's travel not being done by people. So we need now more than ever to support our local businesses. And that in turn supports the workers that work at those businesses.”
The Democrat said his office is getting swamped by callers seeking information about the coronavirus. “Please, please, please, as a public reach out to a reliable source. We don't need any more hysteria behind this. Please reach out to your local health department, New York State Health. Call your physician. Read some reliable information because quite honestly half of our time is related to dispelling myths and dispelling rumors about this virus.”
The North Country Chamber has a coronavirus information and resources webpage that is updated daily.