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  • Few places of business have faced

  • the pressures of the pandemic quite as keenly

  • as the world's ports.

  • A boom in manufacturing and strong demand

  • for consumer durables during the second half of last year

  • have led to logjams on the world's major shipping routes,

  • running from east Asia to the US and Europe.

  • These have only been exacerbated by the Suez Canal blockage

  • last month.

  • Freight costs have soared.

  • At the start of the year, for example,

  • the cost of shipping goods from China to Europe

  • more than quadrupled, hitting record highs.

  • Containers are in short supply, and ports, usually

  • conduits of world trade, are operating more

  • like storage facilities.

  • The rebounding cargo volumes have been so strong

  • that the total figures for the year

  • are barely down on their 2019 levels,

  • despite the collapse in trade during the spring

  • when the pandemic first hit.

  • The scale of the recovery has led

  • to severe delays in the time it takes ships to dock,

  • for containers to make it onto shore,

  • and then onto their final destination.

  • At the Port of Los Angeles, the busiest in the US,

  • containers currently wait for six days

  • to be unloaded compared with the usual two.

  • Loading bays, meanwhile, are operating beyond full capacity.

  • Longshoremen and women from the US West Coast to Singapore

  • have been hit hard by outbreaks of the virus.

  • Some 90 per cent of the Asian city-state's cases

  • have occurred in migrant workers who live in cramped conditions,

  • despite being essential to the running of the port.

  • Those who are working are made less productive

  • by distancing and cleanliness requirements put in place

  • to protect against the virus.

  • The pressures are set to ease in the coming months.

  • Many workers have already received the first vaccine

  • shots, and as economies reopen, demand for consumer durables

  • is set to be superseded by spending on services.

  • That's likely to lead to a drop in exports,

  • as people ditch their Pelotons and PlaysSations,

  • and instead splurge on eating out and events.

  • Till then though, it's full steam ahead.

Few places of business have faced

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