(UPDATE January 10 at 7:35 p.m. ET)

Import and export operations in Tianjin are slowing after a small cluster of COVID cases were discovered over the weekend, according to third-party logistics providers in China. Meanwhile, in Shenzhen, authorities accuse a contaminated import shipment of infecting a freight worker, who then spread the virus to three other people.

The news comes as China steps up its zero tolerance policy towards COVID in the weeks leading up to the Beijing Olympics which begin on February 4. Shipping companies are feeling the effects.

Authorities in the port city of Tianjin have instituted a tiered lockdown system and are testing the 14 million residents, state broadcaster CCTV said, according to the Associated Press. In some parts of the city, people are not allowed to leave their homes at all. In control zones, a family member is allowed to go out to shop for groceries every other day, and in prevention zones, people must stay in their neighborhood.

The port of Tianjin and the airport have suspended pickup operations for all import containers, cargo handling companies said in customer notices on Monday. Seko Logistics said increased nasal swab testing of port and airport personnel is causing delivery delays and more government restrictions may be coming. The port’s sea terminals are operating normally, but the entrance gates have reduced hours, all truck drivers must register to access the port after passing their own health tests, according to Seko and global freight broker CH Robinson (NASDAQ: CHRW).

Beijing Airport is operating normally, but truck deliveries from Tianjin are limited, said Minneapolis-based CH Robinson. Some factories reject Tianjin’s trucks, Seko reported.

Beijing is approximately 70 miles northwest of Tianjin and is easily accessible by car or high-speed train. The Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control on Sunday advised residents of Beijing not to travel to Tianjin, and those of Tianjin to refrain from visiting the capital. He also asked commuters between the two cities to work from home. As of Sunday evening, train tickets from Tianjin to Beijing could no longer be purchased online, CNN reported.

Authorities in Hebei province have also suspended inbound and outbound trucking service to protect against the spread of COVID, CH Robinson said.

Residents of Xi’an and Yuzhou, two cities further away from Beijing, are also confined to their homes. Xi’an, with 13 million people, has been in detention for two weeks, but there were only 15 cases on Monday, the AP reported. Xi’an Airport remains closed and rail and road freight is banned, Seko Logistics added. The closure is causing overflow congestion at nearby Chengdu Airport, the Chicago-based freight company said.

As a prospect, on Sunday there were more than 363,000 new cases of COVID in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, authorities in Shenzhen said on Monday that it was “very likely” that a small cluster of cases were from a worker who was exposed to contaminated cargo from overseas, Chinese media said. English speaking.

Officials said the infection was detected during routine screening of employees in key industries and four people were found with the delta variant. Authorities have started testing everyone in the city of 22 million, closed some public places and told residents not to leave the city unless necessary. Seko Logistics said that a nucleic acid test report is required within 48 hours of entering or leaving the Shenzhen Airport and Port.

It is not clear whether authorities will tighten procedures for handling imported goods due to the suspected contamination. The scientific consensus now is that COVID spreads primarily as an aerosol in the air and that there is a low risk of transmission through contact with the surface. Still, Chinese airport ground officers are required to spray containers with disinfectant and leave them outside for a period of time before unloading them, logistics industry specialists say.

Freight companies and shippers fear labor shortages due to COVID outbreaks and precautionary measures will lead to further supply chain disruptions in 2022, with the omicron variant spreading rapidly and the possibility of new variants appearing.

These worries are already a reality just 10 days after the start of the new year.

Trucking operations at Ningbo Port slowed last week after health officials imposed tests on drivers and forced factories to close. Low productivity circulating containers could potentially lead to ship delays. Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific has cut all-cargo flights by two-thirds due to strict quarantine restrictions for pilots, while the city has banned flights from eight countries, including the United States. United, for two weeks.

In Zhengzhou, hundreds of thousands of workers at the facilities of iPhone maker Foxconn and Huawei’s research campus in Dongguan are being tested as new cases of COVID emerge. Zhengzhou is an air cargo hub and the restrictions there could cause “massive” problems for shippers, Seko Logistics warned.

Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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