Mid and East Antrim Council’s China trip axed over Coronavirus concern

A Mid and East Antrim Borough Council civic visit to China has been cancelled due the Coronavirus outbreak.
The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Maureen Morrow.The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Maureen Morrow.
The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Maureen Morrow.

A local authority delegation, including the Mayor Maureen Morrow and Borough Growth committee chair Councillor Gregg McKeen, had been planning to travel to Donghai and Anshan in April.

The local authority has been exploring a number of initiatives to develop international relations with China.

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Last May, Mid and East Antrim welcomed the new Chinese Consul General, Madame Meifang Zhang and her delegation for key meetings in a bid to strengthen business and trade links.

Anshan, which is a “sister city” of Sheffield,  is home to one of the largest steel producers in China.

Members of the council’s Borough Growth Committee were told at a meeting on Monday night: “Given the Coronavirus outbreak in China, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated travel advice suspending all non-essential travel to China.

“As a result, the civic visit to Donghai and Anshan will not go ahead in April as originally planned.”

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Nicola Rowles, head of economic development, said: “The visit to China is now cancelled due to Coronavirus. We will be keeping in touch with China and we will relook at it. It is a growth area we want to look at.”

Meanwhile, concern has been expressed over a potential downturn in tourism  amid concern over a decrease in Chinese visitors to the borough during the coming months.

The mayor said: “I can see a lot a gaps appearing in the borough in hotels and activity bookings.

“I do not see it ending quickly. This could run through the summer.”

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She suggested that support should be made to businesses in the borough through advice and by “filling gaps” in bookings.

Ainsley McWilliams, the council’s head of Tourism, Arts and Cultural Services, indicated the Tourism NI chairman had been asked about support for the Chinese market during a visit to Carrickfergus last week.

She told members of the council’s Borough Growth Committee the Chinese market accounts for just one per cent of the province’s overall tourism market.

“Tourism NI is keeping a very close eye on the situation but there could be opportunities for more closer to home markets that may not be comfortable travelling abroad.

“It is something they are very much aware of and turning a negative into a positive.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter