Cargo movement slows at ports of Long Beach, L.A. amid ‘coronavirus chaos’

The Port of Long Beach is seeing its lowest labor levels in years as fallout from the coronavirus hits the global supply chain.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China in December and has since spread across the globe, infecting more than 80,000 people. China has now cancelled dozens shipments to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in an effort to contain the disease.

Port of Long Beach Deputy Executive Director Noel Hacegaba on Wednesday said the lower cargo numbers have led to an overall slowdown at the port. If the problem continues, it could have a major impact on the economy, he said.

“Our labor levels have not been this slow in about four or five years,” he said.

Cargo numbers typically drop in February as Chinese businesses close for the Lunar New Year, but imports have now been hit hard with the coronavirus fallout, he said.

The country this month cancelled 53 planned sailings to Long Beach, up from its typical number of about 30 cancellations for February.

Rail and truck activity in the port is down about 25% percent, with many workers having little work to do, he said.

Overall cargo shipment for both January and February has dropped 6% compared to last year, and while that may not seem like a big number, Hacegaba said, cargo volume is already low due to the recent U.S.-China trade war.

“The uncertainty that was created by the trade war has now shifted to chaos brought on by the coronavirus,” he said.

Hacegaba said the impact will likely grow worse in the coming weeks as factories in China are slow to reopen.

While businesses typically close for two weeks during the Lunar New Year, the Chinese government extended the holiday in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. The holiday ended about two weeks ago, but most factories are nowhere close to full operation, he said.

Hacegaba said the port will see a surge in cargo volume when the supply chain resumes.

 “We’re bracing ourselves for a very difficult period, but we remain cautiously optimistic that once the factories resume to 100% operation things will get moving again,” he said. “Our focus right now is making sure we’re prepared for the surge.”

The problems at the ports come as cities and counties have declared a state of emergency over the virus.

On Wednesday, Orange County declared a local health emergency, following in the footsteps of San Diego County and the city of San Francisco.

There has only been one confirmed case of the virus in Orange County. Dr. Nichole Quick, the county’s health officer, said that person has fully recovered.

San Diego County officials declared a local emergency in response to the coronavirus on Feb. 14. Like Orange County, officials in San Diego stressed that the declaration was not an indication of a greater risk of contracting the virus locally, only an effort to ensure the county was prepared to respond should an outbreak occur.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a local emergency on Tuesday. There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus — known as COVID-19– in that city.

Worldwide, more than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, including 2,770 deaths, the vast majority of them in China. More than 50 cases have been confirmed in the United States.

On Tuesday, an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that it isn’t a matter of “if a domestic outbreak will occur, but when.”

The CDC warned that Americans should be prepared to face major disruptions to everyday life, such as cancellation of major public gatherings, should such outbreaks occur.

– City News Service contributed to this report

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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