Shippers the forgotten cog in Covid supply chain

By Phuong Anh   July 27, 2021 | 04:09 pm PT
Shippers the forgotten cog in Covid supply chain
Shippers queue to deliver goods at No. 6 Field Hospital in Thu Duc City, HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.
Protecting supply chains is considered key to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and maintaining economic development, though shippers, parts of the chains, are overlooked.

Over the past few weeks, Hong, a young office clerk in Hanoi, has done her shopping online. She has bought groceries and essential items via different platforms to avoid crowds. The woman said she has been "fairly worried" since the city banned shippers of tech-based transport firms on July 24.

"Shippers are really important to me now. I have certain goods delivered every day," Hong said.

Delivery personnel are part of the giant commerce supply chain, bringing products to consumers. Amid the pandemic, their role is more essential than ever.

"Without shippers, I would have starved," stated Tam, who has just spent 24 days in a locked-down residential area in Ho Chi Minh City. According to her, municipal authorities assisted residents in terms of food, etc. but could not meet all their demands. "Assistance mainly covered the disadvantaged and elderly," she said.

Even after the residential area was removed from the lock-down list, not all residents could go shopping for groceries or essential items. According to Tam, the old and weak, pregnant mothers, and even healthy youngsters who work from home could not queue for hours to buy goods.

Meanwhile, if they were to place orders online, supermarkets or stores would take care of the necessary delivery arrangements.

Shippers wait to receive goods at AEON supermarket in Ha Dong District, Hanoi on July 24. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Minh.

Shippers wait to receive goods at AEON supermarket in Ha Dong District, Hanoi on July 24. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Minh.

Shippers are meaningful not only to end-consumers like Hong and Tam. According to public policy expert Nguyen Quang Dong, shippers are the "blood vessels that keep the economy running even when cities are isolated due to pandemics." He said they are an important part of the formula that helps Vietnam realize its dual target of fighting the pandemic and developing its economy.

This was proved in China when the pandemic peaked in mid-2020. South China Morning Post in April 2020 called shippers food armies that fed millions of Chinese when authorities across many cities and provinces first tightened isolation and lock-down measures when Covid-10 broke out.

"Home delivery played a very important role amid the coronavirus outbreak. To some extent, it prevented people from starving, especially in cases where local governments took extreme measures to isolate people," political economist Hu Xingdou told the Hong Kong newspaper.

Delivery personnel met the essential demands of thousands taking shelter at home. Even when equipped with facial masks, sanitizer and non-contact goods delivery procedures, their safety remains at risk.

Nam, a 29-year-old Grab deliveryperson, said he sent his wife and child to their hometown a month ago before Hanoi reported more Covid-19 community infections. "Every day I come in contact with dozens, even hundreds of people, so I can be infected anytime. Meanwhile, my child is small and my wife pregnant," he said.

Before Hanoi banned shippers from tech-based transport companies, Nam worked from 7 p.m. till midnight daily. "Online shopping demand has surged. I see orders increase by some 20 percent a day," he said.

"If shippers like me had been vaccinated (against Covid-19), we might have been allowed to work now. Goods delivery is essential," Nam said.

According to expert Dong, it is time authorities focused on protecting shippers.

"In the initial phase, we only paid attention to protecting production, forgetting logistics. When paying attention to logistics, we still forget shippers are the ones who bring goods to end-consumers, to families," said Dong.

According to the expert, it is high time shippers were vaccinated against Covid-19. "They should be prioritized after people who directly combat the pandemic," he stated. According to him, shippers should be given more priority than teachers and lecturers because they can completely work from home now.

Tech-based transport firms said they expect the vaccination strategy in the coming time to prioritize logistics companies and people in charge of handling and delivering goods like shippers, truck drivers, as well as warehouse and supermarket staff.

Le Duy Binh, managing director of consulting company Economica Vietnam, said: "We have already had vaccines. Now we cannot forget truck drivers, people in charge of loading, unloading and packaging goods, customs officers, retailers and end-delivery personnel."

After many proposals, long-distance truck drivers have recently been added to the list of priority groups for vaccination in HCMC. On July 17, the city also added shippers to the list.

On July 21, Hanoi announced a list of 13 priority groups for vaccination that does not clearly put shippers in any group.

HCMC authorities have decided that delivery people shipping essential goods can only do so in one district each to minimize possible spread of Covid-19 by them.

Similarly, the Hanoi Department of Industry and Trade has asked all shippers to send their list of employees delivering goods by motorbike, and it will confirm their eligibility.

Both Hanoi and HCMC have mandated social distancing.

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