The affect of the global pandemic on freight movement


The rapid and global spread of the novel coronavirus has had impacted the majority of industries across the world.

While the most reported pressures have naturally been on health care, and the race for a vaccine, significant questions have been raised on how this virus has impacted freight and passenger travel.

The spread of the coronavirus throughout the world and the different public health measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus has had a unique impact on the global freight industry. This article looks to explore some of the most important impacts which can or have affected businesses across the globe.

Squeeze on Global Trade

Freight forwarders, shipping companies and ports have all witnessed a decrease in demand as the virus caused a global squeeze in trade. Although many countries are slowly moving away from the peak of the virus, the public health measures that were put in place to quash the spread of the virus has had a significant impact in the trading of goods. Although the pressures on health care and the availability of personal protective equipment have dominated the news, the drop in output of manufacturing across the globe has slipped under the radar. This squeeze on trade has had a significant impact on the demand and supply for freight operators.

The squeeze on manufacturing, especially in China throughout January and February caused a significant drop in demand and supply across the freight forwarding sector. As the Chinese manufacturing market is responsible for a significant amount of global production, the halt in production had significant ramifications as expected.

Cargo Backlogs

The stringent measures put in place in certain ports had caused a significant backlog in freight sitting in docks and warehouses. The public health measures that were adopted in major ports such as Shanghai, Long Beach and Rotterdam, required ships to adhere to a certain period of quarantine before they unloaded their cargo or received new containers. This attached significant delays to cargo waiting to be moved, in some cases the delays attached caused freight to be sent back to the sender.

Air Freight

The movement of air cargo has seen similar limitations. The drop in passenger traffic and the full closures of airports in some circumstances has impacted global air cargo capacity, with some estimates recording a 35% drop. One of the major factors behind the drop in capacity is the distinct decrease in passenger traffic. A large proportion of global air cargo is carried in the belly of passenger jets and the decrease in passenger flights has disrupted vital cargo flows.

While passenger flights have naturally decreased, the global air freight services have adapted and larger freight carriers have picked up some of the demand. As restrictions across the globe lift and further manageable guidelines are put in place, the sector may be able to return to pre-COVID levels as demand for products increases.

What does the future hold?

There are arguments circulating how freight forwarders can help overcome the distinct need for shipping certain goods across the globe. As manufacturing starts increasing again in certain countries, companies will require quick and efficient transportation of goods. This is where effective freight forwarders can revolutionise their business, but also increase their favourability in the public eye.

In short, we don’t know how the next coming months are going to pan out. While the peak in many countries has seemed to have passed, how freight forwarders move forward depends on the updating of relevant guidelines and public health measures. It is expected that both air and sea freight will capacity rise to some form of pre-existing levels.