Coronavirus ups risk of staff shortage

London, UK: The coronavirus has reached into every part of business and the temperature-controlled logistics sector is no exception. Food and pharmaceuticals dominate temperature-controlled logistics and both have seen demand increase as a result of the virus spread.

The challenge for the industry is not decimated business volumes such as that which the airline industry faces, but staff shortages. Drivers and trained warehouse staff are already in short supply: but take a fifth or more from the workforce, due to sickness as government predictions suggest, then the industry does face a crisis.

And it’s not one that government has been willing to do much about – if it can. The Road Haulage Association has warned that coronavirus, or Covid-19, is threatening many logistics businesses and the greater supply chain which is vital for the UK economy.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said of measures announced by the chancellor during his budget speech: “This feels like a sticking plaster to cover the potentially gaping wound of Covid-19. The money is welcome to support struggling small businesses but is it enough to save some from going to the wall?

“Many are worried about volumes dropping by half and with the prospect of drivers and other staff being off sick for long periods – the UK supply chain is under threat.”

Overall road freight volumes are likely to fall, some estimates are by as much as half, which could free up stuff for more essential food and pharma delivery work.

The effect of the pandemic on pharma companies, as with everything else, will be complex and unpredictable, says Brian Padgett, US compliance manager, Biocair, a pharmaceutical courier. The UK government has requested pharmaceutical suppliers explore the risk of disruption to global supply chains. The contingency stockpile of medical supplies and raw materials created to buffer the UK’s exit from the EU is providing some stability for domestic manufacturers and supply chains, he says.

Welcome news comes in government willingness to relax delivery hours in the wake of the coronavirus. Natalie Chapman, head of urban policy at the Freight Transport Association, said: “The government’s announcement that it will work with local authorities to extend the hours in which deliveries can be made is a practical and sensible approach to support retailers during this period of unprecedented demand for basic items.

“FTA has been urging government to enable restrictions to be relaxed on night-time deliveries for several years; we hope this temporary measure will be soon be considered for permanency. Retiming deliveries to quieter periods has the potential to reduce road congestion while delivering a number of social benefits, such as improved air quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased road safety during the busiest periods of the day.

“FTA has worked with the Noise Abatement Society and Transport for London to develop measures to support the retiming of deliveries to out of peak hours and the shoulders of the day and overnight whilst not disturbing residents. We hope the government will learn lessons from this temporary measure and consider ways to support local authorities in permanently relaxing delivery restrictions to allow for more innovative, flexible solutions to meet the challenges that lie ahead.”

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