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Covid Cases Spark New Measures at China’s Ningbo Port

Despite tightening local lockdowns, Ningbo, the world’s largest port, still appears to be operating normally with no delays. But heightened restrictions stemming from China’s “zero Covid-19” policies mean stakeholders linked to the Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan are increasingly wary of possible delays and shipping disruptions at the critical freight gateway.

Ningbo has reported a total of 26 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases within the Beilun district of the city since Jan. 1, local authorities told the country’s state media on Tuesday. As such, the local government in the country’s Zhejiang province ordered a partial quarantine within Beilun.

Three of Ningbo’s container terminals border Beilun, including Ningbo Beilun Container Terminal (NBCT), Ningbo Beilun Second (NBSCT) and Ningbo Beilun Third (NBTCT).  There are no reports of infections at the port itself.

Maersk Line reported normal loading and discharge operations at the three terminals, while gate-in and out operations are subject to new restrictions.

To ensure Ningbo-Zhoushan port container services and logistics continuing operating smoothly, authorities adopted new measures, including issuing passes to qualified truck drivers to enter into the lockdown areas and opening greenways for external container vehicles to enter the port.

Throughout the pandemic, Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy has curbed local outbreaks with mass testing, restrictive lockdowns, vigilant surveillance and extensive quarantines. The latest lockdowns have occurred as the Omicron variant sparked a surge in confirmed infections in recent months.

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Factories near Beilun are concerned that lockdowns could interrupt production and hamper their ability to fulfill orders.

An outbreak over the weekend at a Beilun clothing factory owned by Shenzhou International Group Holdings sparked the local lockdowns and mass testing, leading to fewer available truck drivers at Ningbo-Zhoushan, which handles the highest cargo volume worldwide and is the third-largest port by overall container traffic.

From Jan. 1-3, daily container throughput at Ningbo-Zhoushan totaled more than 97,000 twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs), equal to 108.5 percent of the volume handled in the same period of last year, according to local port officials.

In August, Ningbo-Zhoushan’s Meishan Island International Container Terminal (MSICT) suspended operations for two weeks due to a coronavirus outbreak. The impact on the supply chain was less severe than that caused by June’s closure of Yantian Port, which lasted three weeks and locked up approximately 25,000 containers.

Ningbo has experienced three partial lockdowns in the space of six months. Throughout China, more areas are undergoing further quarantining amid the Omicron resurgence. Along the Yangtze River, approximately 200 vessel operators have been put into quarantine over the past week after two people tested positive for the virus.

And in Southern China, carriers such as Ocean Network Express (ONE) and Hapag-Lloyd suspended services from late December until mid-February due to strict Covid quarantine rules for crews, threatening the ability of local seafarers to get home in time for the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday.

China’s strict quarantine rules are seeing Chinese crews face quarantines of up to seven weeks when they return home, while crew changes for foreign seafarers at Chinese ports have become increasingly difficult.

Vietnam trade ministry to China: ease border congestion

As one Chinese province handles the resurgence of the pandemic, Vietnam is hoping that another is willing to ease up on the “zero Covid-19” policies to eliminate congestion along the China-Vietnam border.

Vietnam’s trade ministry asked authorities of China’s Guangxi province to take urgent measures to ease congestion at border crossings after the nation increased controls to follow zero Covid-19 policies, Vietnamese state media reported.

Pictures and video footage from state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA) showed thousands of trucks were held up at the border following reports that imported Covid-19 cases had been detected in Guangxi.

“Anti-virus prevention measures that Guangxi is applying under the ‘zero Covid’ policies, including closing border gates or stopping fruit imports, are over necessary,” VNA reported, citing a statement from the Ministry of Industry and Trade. “This disruption has caused negative impact on bilateral trade and great losses to businesses and people on both sides.”

In response, Guangxi trade officials said they would increase the duration of customs clearance and pass along other proposals to higher authorities, the report said.

China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner, and the biggest market for its fruit and vegetables. Trade in agriculture products between the two countries in the first 11 months of 2021 rose 19.5 percent against the same period last year to $11.3 billion, the trade ministry said.