This may be my most important editorial piece yet on importing news. I honestly wish I could report on something else, but this is is the most pressing issue facing our industry today... As COVID-19 continues to infect and wreak havoc on economies around the globe, it should be obvious at this point that fastener manufacturing, importing and distribution will be affected. As of this article, the most recent updates according to LinkedIn news is that Trump has announced new guidelines for Americans that groups of more than 10 people should be avoided, several major cities have ordered their residents to stay inside except for "essential needs", presidential primaries are being delayed, and many cities are ordering bars and restaurants to shut down or do delivery/carry-out only. Furthermore, The Coronavirus Relief Package, which has bipartisan support and the support of President Trump, has passed in the house (363 - 40) and is on the way to the senate, where it is very likely to pass quickly as well. Very few politicians want to be in the minority on such an issue, especially based on the most recent preliminary research that suggests this virus is very infectious, hard to fight, and has a high degree of potential to overwhelm our already limping hospital system.
The Coronavirus Relief Package ensures free COVID-19 testing and significantly increases benefits for workers that are most likely to be affected by the virus. These benefits include expanding family medical leave and paid sick leave, bolstering unemployment insurance, increased budget for health insurance for the poor, and food programs for children and the elderly (who are particularly susceptible to the virus). Sick leave definitions are also to include eligibility for parents that have to stay home because they have a child whose school or childcare facility has closed due to coronavirus shutdowns.
Now, let's get to how this is affecting our industry specifically. I took a few weeks off from writing these, and since my last post, the good news was that the rate at which new cases was being discovered in China had begun to drop significantly, but honestly, we are not sure how much we can trust Chinese media to report on this factually. Many health organizations are stating that the number of infections far surpass the numbers that are actually being reported and since this disease started in China, there is a strong incentive for bias in reporting.
To be fair, some argue that there is a strong incentive for bias in reporting in the United States as well, as some claim that the media is over-hyping this disease for various reasons. I am not looking to get political with these editorials, therefore I will leave it to you, the reader, to determine what those reasons may or may not be, or if the "over-hype" is true. Full disclosure, I tend to lean towards it being a bit over-hyped, but as you can tell by my opening, I also fully recognize the very real danger present. I think awareness is important and that we should be taking serious steps to "flatten the curve", but I do not think we need to be in full panic mode over this (not yet at least).
Back to China... even if their numbers are solid (and that's a big "IF"), they have also reported that the first case of re-infection has been confirmed. This means that reports of UK's potential plan of allowing it to spread in their population to build immunity may be ill-advised. This also has implications for businesses, as they send employees home that potentially have COVID-19. If we combine the potential for re-infection with the high infectiousness of the disease and the fact that it is infectious during the incubation period (in which the person is not showing signs of the disease), then it is logical to expect that employees could become re-infected after a sick leave, and be carrying the disease even when they show no signs of the disease. This is especially troubling for warehouses and manufacturing facilities, in which employees are often working more closely together and work cannot get done unless they are there (as opposed to sales, purchasing, etc. in which employees can easily work from home). Also, because the virus is able to survive on materials for days, the potential for contact with the virus can be quite high in places in which many people are touching the same material (such as a relatively central doorknob or other fairly innocuous places) -- this is why my gym shutdown last night until April 1st.
China's temporary total shutdown may have been effective enough to at least return to partial manufacturing though.
The issue now is that the virus has spread to the rest of the world and is causing shutdowns elsewhere. That said, as of this writing, our industry is still running smoothly in Europe, with the exception of Italy, which has been hit the hardest by the virus. While many Italian manufacturers and distributors are still up and running, FedEx and UPS have stopped picking up from portions of Italy, therefore they can take orders and even have them ready for shipping, but they may not be able to ship unless they meet the weight requirements (or pay the fee) for one of the few cargo truck lines still running in those regions. The remainder of Europe is still shipping as usual, but with International flights cancelled, shipping options are more limited and therefore more costly.
Eurolink is monitoring the situation in Europe closely and is staying in contact with all of our vendors during this time to ensure that orders are being shipping and received on time (or, at worst, with very minor delays). Our account managers have been instructed to account for potential delays as much as possible in our quoting and confirmations. We will continue to monitor the situation and make our customers aware of any changes as the COVID-19 situation further unfolds.
About the author: London Penland, ex-teacher, tutor and educational non-profit leader and current business development director for Eurolink Fastener Supply Service and Social Chair/Educational Director for Young Fastener Professionals, empowers sales reps, purchasing agents and sourcing agents with researched industry-specific educational videos and articles. Click here https://eurolinkfss.com/vlog/ to see all of London’s VLOGs and gain access to download his lesson plans.