The coronavirus threatens widespread disruption in the Hunter labour market as the region's business chamber urges firms to start running simulations on how they will deal with the outbreak.
Computer giant Apple announced on Saturday that it was closing all its stores outside China for two weeks, and Flight Centre is closing 100 stores permanently.
The virus has already crippled national sports competitions and could wreak more havoc on the hospitality, tourism, entertainment and retail sectors if social isolation becomes the norm.
Casual workers are particularly vulnerable to any downturn.
A host of Hunter cultural and community events, from Newcastle Knights games to park runs, theatre, food festivals and rock concerts, have been cancelled indefinitely.
City of Newcastle chief executive Jeremy Bath said on Sunday that "numerous" concert and conference cancellations at City Hall and Civic Theatre would affect the council's bottom line.
NSW added another 22 COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 11am on Sunday, 10 of which were from an unknown source. The state now has 134 confirmed cases and the nation more than 250.
Two of the new NSW cases were teenagers, four were in their 20s, five in their 30s, five in their 40s, three in their 50s and three in their 60s.
Only two cases have been confirmed in the Hunter, but health authorities do not the know the transmission source for the second patient, a woman in her 60s who was visiting the Mater oncology unit until Thursday.
Westmead Hospital immunologist Dan Suan has urged all Australians to minimise human contact and cancel all social plans to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The warning, which exceeded the advice of government health authorities, appeared to have little effect on the Darby Street cafe strip, which was bustling with customers on Sunday.
Cafe owners told the Newcastle Herald that business had been slow during the week but weekend trade was as brisk as usual.
One said he had spoken to his accountant about the government's business stimulus package and had briefed staff about the possible implications of the outbreak.
Another said he would deal with challenges when they arose but was hopeful the virus would not have a serious impact on his business.
Ben Neil, owner of Newy Burger Co, said he had noticed a slight downturn in customers but his online deliveries had picked up.
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive officer Bob Hawes said the virus had the potential to be a catastrophe for small business.
"The unpredictability of it is starting to show its teeth," he said.
"We've been telling people to talk to their customers and find out what they're contemplating doing so they've got some warning.
"People should be running scenarios. These decisions may happen very quickly and be out of their control."
He said customers had started changing their behaviour, including panic buying, regardless of what the government was telling them.
Some firms had discussed "making arrangements" with casual staff, a "natural reaction" as revenue fell.
The government's stimulus package includes up to $25,000 in withheld tax for small and medium businesses to pay wages and other money to pay apprentices.
A Newcastle-based associate director of NSW Business Chamber's Australian Business Lawyers and Advisers, Kyle Scott, urged business people not to "bury their heads in the sand".
"The data seems to be that the early, aggressive approach seems to be working more than the sort of laissez faire approach," he said.
"You look at China's response next to Italy's, for example.
"No one's encouraging panic, but people saying, 'Oh, it's a bit of a beat-up,' I'd be cautioning against that.
"The reality is that, if you can put in place some reasonable measures now as a preventative, you'll likely look back and be glad that you did."
ABLA had heard from businesses which had started splitting their office staff into A and B teams working alternately from home so any outbreak would not sideline their entire workforce.
"The indications are there's going to be an economic downturn. The million-dollar question is how long it is going to stick around for and how severe it's going to be," Mr Scott said.
"The reports we're hearing from businesses are that they're already preparing. They're looking at restructuring their work and whether redundancies are on the horizon.
"Is the business going to shut down for a period of time? Can they direct the workforce to work from home?
"Should we be having discussions with our workers now around whether they want to take their annual leave?"
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