Chinese sex workers are claiming to be Korean, Japanese or simply Asian in their online advertisements as clients give them a wide berth amid coronavirus fears.

One Chinese sex worker, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, said she had edited her nationality from Chinese to Asian in two sex directory advertisements online.

She said despite slashing her rates from $180 to $90, business had still fallen by more than 50 per cent in the last fortnight.

Dame Catherine Healy of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective said these were "extremely worrying times for sex workers".

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"We are concerned about the ability for people to both avoid this virus and survive financially," Healy said.

Chinese sex workers list themselves as Asian on sex directories. Photo / Supplied.
Chinese sex workers list themselves as Asian on sex directories. Photo / Supplied.

The organisation was actively advising those working in the sex industry to follow precautions issued by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation, she said.

"Business is way down and it's never been this bad before," said the Chinese sex worker, who advertises on newzealandgirls.co.nz

She is a New Zealand resident and has not been back to China for the last eight years, but says clients saw her as "no different to someone who has just arrived from Wuhan".

"I don't mention that I am Chinese any more and I offer a big discount, but clients are avoiding us like we are the virus," she said.

She said it used to be common for sex workers to claim to be new arrivals as a way to attract would-be clients seeking "fresh girls", but that now worked against them.

High-profile sex worker Lisa Lewis said she has become diligent in taking precautions and screening clients.

Sex worker Lisa Lewis says Chinese sex workers here are being discriminated against because of coronavirus. Photo / Supplied.
Sex worker Lisa Lewis says Chinese sex workers here are being discriminated against because of coronavirus. Photo / Supplied.

"I tell clients they can't make a booking if they have any cough, sore throat or cold and flu symptoms. All my clients are made to hand-sanitise after dealing with money," Lewis said.

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"I have them shower in front of me where I put the soap I've purchased on them to ensure hygiene is maintained, and I don't kiss clients."

Lewis said she felt sorry for the Chinese sex workers, because many of them are local born and may not have ever even been to China.

"I feel maybe they are being discriminated against which isn't nice," she said.

"I feel very sorry for them in that way which is unacceptable but maybe why they are hiding under the umbrella of another country."

Although there is no official data, Chinese sex workers are understood to be the highest number of foreign nationals working unlawfully in the sex industry.

Under the Prostitution Reform Act 2003, only New Zealand citizens and residents can work in the sex industry.

Last year, Immigration New Zealand compliance officers visited 57 brothels across cities both in the North and South Islands, including Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

Sixty six migrant workers were identified, with 36 on visitor visas and two on student visas. All of the sex workers, except for one, were Chinese nationals.

More than 17,000 people have been infected by the new coronavirus that originated in China and spread to other countries. More than 360 people have died in China, and two in the Philippines, the first deaths outside China.

There has yet to be any cases in New Zealand but many are taking precautions.