Air New Zealand says it will take the lead from health authorities in any response to the coronavirus which is spreading from China and has been likened to the Sars outbreak in 2002 that temporarily rocked global air travel.
An analyst warns that while it's unclear how the situation will evolve, there would be negative sentiment around Air New Zealand and Auckland Airport.
"If it escalates the impact on passenger travel could be material for a period of time, as was the case for Sars," said Forsyth Barr analyst Andy Bowley.
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Air New Zealand shares were trading down nearly 1c to $2.95 mid-afternoon, although the airport's price was trading up 4c at $8.96 after dipping earlier in the day.
Fallout was harder overseas. Hong Kong-listed shares of China Eastern Airlines dropped 6.7 per cent and China Southern Airlines dropped 6.51 per cent, Cathay Pacific dipped 4.07 per cent, Japan Airlines was down 2.97 per cent while ANA shed 2.16 per cent.
Share prices of airlines in the United States fell 3 per cent last night. The outbreak of the new coronavirus originating from Wuhan in central China has killed six people and left hundreds sick, according to official figures, although it is feared thousands may be affected.
The mystery virus has spread to at least five other countries, including the United States, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
Air New Zealand flies directly to Shanghai and Hong Kong daily.
An airline spokeswoman said it would take its lead from the Ministry of Health, which has so far not ordered any special steps or imposed any travel restrictions.
Tests to detect China's new virus not available in New Zealand
"If the situation becomes more serious, we're ready to implement any measures required," said the spokeswoman.
Bowley said that based on the fallout from Sars virus that resulted in 774 deaths across 37 countries a similar scare could mean passengers could avoid air travel.
The Sars outbreak had a "short sharp shock" on global travel markets.
Asian air travel demand fell by 8 per cent but recovered in 2004.
While there were no reported Sars cases in New Zealand, inbound passengers from Asia declined by 34 per cent in the June quarter of 2003.
Sars was contained in July 2003, having emerged in late 2002, and travel markets recovered quickly, said Bowley.
With Chinese New Year celebrations starting at the end of the week, a large proportion of the Chinese population will undertake domestic and international travel. This could lead to a more rapid spread of the virus.
While there are no direct flights between Wuhan and New Zealand, the city is about a two-hour domestic flight from cities with non-stop services to this country: Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzen and Hong Kong.
There are more than 40 non-stop flights a week to Auckland and Christchurch.
Any hit to the Chinese tourist market would be a blow for this country. China is our second biggest tourist market after Australia but suffered a downturn last year as Chinese travellers fretted about their country's economy.
Travel Agents Association of NZ president Brent Thomas said it was low season for travel to China by holiday makers and business travellers which meant there had not been an impact on outbound travel.
"It's very much a watching brief," said Thomas.
Bloomberg reports that Bank Nomura Holdings says that based on the Sars outbreak 17 years ago, it expects "increased downward pressure on China's growth, particularly in the services sector".
UBS economists Wang Tao and Ning Zhang noted the ongoing peak travel season around Chinese New Year said it was a tremendous challenge.
"If the pneumonia couldn't be contained in the short term, we expect China's retail sales, tourism, hotel and catering, travel activities likely to be hit, especially in Q1 and early Q2," they said.