BEIJING: Congestion off China's top two container ports Shanghai and Ningbo is worsening following the shutdown of a container terminal in Ningbo where a COVID-19 case was detected this week.
Tighter restrictions to fight China's latest coronavirus outbreak are starting to hit more parts of the economy. The highly transmissable Delta variant has been detected in more than a dozen cities since late July.
The closure of a key terminal at the Ningbo-Zhoushan port on the east coast - the world's third busiest cargo port, which handled about 1.2 billion tonnes in 2020 - reflects China's determination to squash its worst COVID-19 outbreak in months no matter the economic costs.
Forty container vessels were waiting at the outer Zhoushan anchorage on Thursday (Aug 12), up from 30 on Tuesday when a worker at the Meidong container terminal tested positive for COVID-19, data tracked by Refinitiv showed.
The worker was fully vaccinated and it remained unclear how he or she became infected. Chinese port workers are routinely tested for COVID-19.
Meidong terminal has suspended all operations since early Wednesday, while other terminals in Ningbo imposed restrictions limiting the number of people and cargo entering port areas.
Almost 2,000 frontline workers at Ningbo-Zhoushan port have been placed under "closed management" - effectively unable to leave the port - as a result of the infection, Chinese media reported.
Shipping company CMA CGM put out a note on Thursday saying that some vessels will be re-routed to Shanghai or skip port calls at Ningbo. Hapag-Lloyd expects the suspension in Meidong to cause delays in some planned sailings, according to a company statement.
Ports in nearby Shanghai, where many vessels are being re-routed, are seeing the worst congestion in at least three years. About 30 vessels were queuing outside Yangshan port, a key container terminal in Shanghai, Refinitiv data showed.
Ports in eastern China have been resuming operations and clearing backlogs following Typhoon In-Fa, which dented container handling volume by 10 per cent in late July from the same period last year, according to data from China Ports and Harbours Association.
The latest jams follow massive disruptions to container handling in southern China in June, when ports near Shenzhen imposed stringent COVID-19 containment measures leading to dozens of container vessels stuck in traffic.
The latest wave of port congestion in eastern China could further drive up container shipping rates, which recently topped US$20,000 per 40ft box for the first time on the critical China-US route as rising retailer orders ahead of the peak US shopping season added strain to global supply chains.