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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue discusses possible impact of coronavirus on ports

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SAVANNAH, GA. (WSAV) – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was in Savannah Monday to tour the port and spoke with News 3 about the possible impact of the coronavirus on the local economy.

“You know how important the Port is to not only Savannah and Georgia, but the nation here,” Perdue said.

He says the Ports of Savannah and Brunswick are not only important in terms of imports, but exports of Georgia products. The coronavirus may affect that.

“When you have worldwide outbreaks, one of the things we’ve seen already with the phase 1 (trade) deal with China is that people working at the Port there have really been limited in getting there, so things have backed up,” said Perdue.

March shipments to the port are expected to be down, by some estimates as much as 40%. Perdue expects this to be temporary.

“We do expect that to be resolved once the cornonavirus settles down in China,” he told us. “We see some early indications it may have peaked there, hopefully it has, but obviously has now been reported in Italy and Iran and other countries. In South Korea, we are just seeing outbreaks there now.”

Nearly 1,400 people are employed at the Ports of Savannah and Brunswick, but tens of thousands of additional people are employed by shipping and trucking industries. That’s why any impact from the virus in terms of fewer shipments will get attention.

In terms of safety from products or workers coming on ships, Perdue told us, “the port does a good job of complying with the federal regulations regarding food safety not only food safety but in this case human safety and the contagious aspect of coronavirus.”

Health officials have told us that federal regulations require that incoming ships report any illnesses on board and that process begins several days before the ship even docks.

Perdue also defended the Trump Administration’s plan in terms so handling the virus.

“The president has issued travel restrictions from certain places and we have to be ever vigilant that way,” said Perdue.

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