U.S. trucking unlikely to take big hit from coronavirus

Updated Feb 13, 2020

There are still many unknowns about the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, in December, but given the information available about the virus so far, medical professionals haven’t yet determined if the virus can live on surfaces and, thus, be a threat to truckers servicing freight inbound from China.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s currently unclear if a person can contract the new coronavirus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.

Phil Levy, chief economist for global supply chain management company Flexport, says so far there has been no evidence that the virus can be carried on shipments. Additionally, the U.S. Coast Guard is allowing commercial vessels that have been to China or have crewmembers who have been in China into U.S. ports as long as no crewmembers are sick. Crew on these vessels are required to stay on the ships while at port, however.

CDC says current knowledge about the virus shows it most often spreads from person-to-person in close contact (about six feet). CDC adds that person-to-person spread is thought to occur through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how flu and other respiratory viruses spread.

As of Monday, Feb. 10, the virus has spread to infect more than 40,000 people and killed more than 900 – nearly all of which have been in China.

In addition to health concerns, the virus could also affect freight volume coming into the U.S. from China. The extent of the virus’ impact on the supply chain is still largely unknown, but experts say the normally soft first quarter for Chinese imports to the U.S. will be even softer this year.

According to a report from DHL’s Resilience360, Wuhan is a hub for high-tech industries, including chip fabrication plants that make flash memory used in smartphones and computers. The city is also known as China’s “motor city,” the report states, due to a large manufacturing presence of domestic and foreign carmakers and global auto parts suppliers.

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DHL’s report says authorities in Wuhan put the city on lockdown beginning Jan. 23. The report adds that “severe disruptions to inbound and outbound air cargo shipments, trucking and rail cargo services, as well as heavy port congestions for vessels along the Yangtze River near Wuhan will likely persist as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.”

One bit of silver lining for shippers, and in turn trucking companies in the U.S. that distribute imported freight from China from ports, is that the Wuhan lockdown began at the start of the Lunar New Year celebration, which is normally a week-long holiday for Chinese citizens and businesses when all manufacturing is shut down anyway.

The normal holiday period was scheduled from Jan. 24-30, and that was extended through Feb. 2 for most of China. It was extended through Feb. 9 for some larger municipalities and provinces, and through Feb. 13 for Hubei Province, including Wuhan.