Container trucking services in Ningbo, home to the world’s third-busiest container port, remain disrupted amid the backdrop of draconian measures taken to limit the spread of coronavirus. The city’s Beilun District, where a string of large box terminals is located, has been put on lockdown. The development has restricted the activities of more than 20,000 container truck drivers serving the port. They need to apply for government certificates to restore their working capability. The latest government update shows that more than 12,000 have received special passes that grant the access to port area, while 2,389 have been added onto a whitelist that enables trips outside of Ningbo to other regions in Zhejiang province.

In a customer advisory on January 6, Maersk said that less than 10% of the container truck drivers eligible have completed the certification required to meet local authorities’ virus-control rules. Shipping sources said trucking capacity was still in short supply owing to a combination of factors, including price gouging among drivers keen to reap fat profits from a tight market. Some non-local drivers are reluctant go to Ningbo due to strict precautionary rules. The government in nearby Wenzhou said in a recently leaked document that whitelisted truck drivers travelling from the Beilun port area were required to have received a booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine and to have produced a negative test twice in the preceding three days before being allowed to enter the city.

Positive test case rates elsewhere in the Zhejiang province have added another layer of uncertainty about the truck traffic and cargo flows in the hinterland. A positive test case was reported by the authorities in Yongkang, a part of Jinhua city, about 200 km southwest of Ningbo, on January 5, raising concern that the disruption to land transport could grow further. “Trucking service in Yongkang, Jinhua, the mid-high-risk area of Beilun district of Ningbo, and the area outside Zhejiang province remains suspended under the strict regulation by the epidemic prevention policy,” said Maersk, adding that operations at one of its Ningbo Bluedragon LongXing warehouses in Beilun have been halted completely.

Despite this, container load and discharge operations at the terminals are at normal levels as no infection has been detected in the facilities that operate under closed-loop management and are isolated from outside communities. Beilun has reported more than 30 positive test cases since January 1, when local positive tests were first recorded. New positive test cases after January 2, however, have all derived from designated quarantine locations, said the government, suggesting the spread is now under control.

Meanwhile, Shenzhen, another major port city in southern China, confirmed two positive coronavirus tests on January 7 in the Luohu and Longgang districts. Local authorities have started massive testing programs and imposed travel restrictions, which might affect road transport connecting the port.