Pandemic spurs Hong Kong logistics rethink

On the move: Cargo being unloaded at Kwai Tsing Container Terminals in Hong Kong. — China Daily/ANN

HONG KONG: Around 7pm one evening in early March, David Cheng, 64, left a two-storey dormitory built from stacked shipping containers in Lok Ma Chau, Hong Kong.

He drove an empty truck across the border to Shenzhen, Guangdong province, before returning to Hong Kong at around 4am, with the vehicle fully loaded with daily necessities and medical supplies that were in short supply.

To avoid traffic congestion caused by Covid-19 control procedures, Cheng had to switch to working in the small hours, from later in the morning.

The round trip from Lok Ma Chau to Shenzhen used to take three to four hours, but in early March, the journey time extended to around nine hours, and to 12 hours in the middle of that month.

The longer journeys came after Shenzhen authorities required truck drivers from Hong Kong to remain in designated areas while mainland counterparts took over disinfected trucks to pick up goods, in order to avoid cross-infection.

Drivers such as Cheng also had to take at least three Covid-19 tests, keeping them waiting at the border for one to two hours until they received the results.

The prolonged working procedures resulted in long lines of trucks forming at border crossing points in the day, so Cheng’s company decided to operate at night.

Cheng was one of the few drivers still available for work in early March, as about 20 recruits hired by the company he works for tested positive for Covid-19.

By March 23, positive tests had been returned by more than 500 cross-border truck drivers.

In early March, Hong Kong recorded its highest single-day total of Covid-19 infections – more than 70,000. Panic quickly gripped the city, with the shelves of stores emptying.

The supply of fresh food and other necessities in Hong Kong relies heavily on workers such as Cheng.

Chan Dik-sau, chairman of the Container Transportation Employees General Union, said that before the pandemic emerged, some 13,000 truckers drove between the mainland and Hong Kong every day with supplies of fresh food.

Stanley Chiang Chi-wai, chairman of the Hong Kong Land Transport Council, said that after the pandemic hit the city in 2020, the number of truck drivers crossing the border fell to about 8,000.

Many drivers left the industry due to the strict anti-pandemic requirements.

The impact was quickly felt, with the value of goods transported to Hong Kong by land falling by 12.7% in February from a year earlier.

According to a survey conducted by the CTEGU in late March, only one in 10 cross-border drivers were working in the middle of that month.

The value of goods imported from the mainland by land in March fell by nearly 60% year-on-year.

The reduced land transportation links also affected Hong Kong’s standing as an international logistics hub connecting mainland and overseas markets. — China Daily/ANN

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