Covid-19: The good news… Asia’s logistics markets are returning to normal

Whilst the spread of coronavirus to the West has brought with it panic and disruption, things are at least getting back to normal in Asia. Today (19th March 2020) was the first day when there were no recorded new cases of the disease from domestic sources in China. According to forwarder DSV, production in China is ramping up and large parts of the country is back in business. Activity levels are close to normal in Southern China although Northern and Central China are still impacted by restrictions. In fact, with production catching up on a backlog of orders, it is expected that there will be severe levels of congestion at the major ports although this may be mitigated by falling demand in the West. Airports are still struggling with a lack of passenger flights and consequently a lack of bellyhold capacity.


  • International freight forwarders in China are now operating as normal, with the exception of offices in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic and Hubei.
  • Most Container Freight Stations are open

Sea freight

  • Port operations throughout China are operating as normal.
  • Reefer capacity at many main ports, such as Pusan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Ningbo and Tianjin are operating at over 80% and plugs are still limited.
  • Many sailings are still being blanked by the main carriers.
  • Forwarder K+N said that terminals are still reporting high to full yard density and congestion.
  • The suspension of services from Asia has caused an imbalance in equipment with high demand for exports from Europe and North America not being met by the supply of containers.
  • Larger ships will be deployed to meet the expected upsurge in demand in April.
  • The ‘lumpy’ demand and supply will create volatility in shipping rates.

Air freight

  • All China’s airports are working normally with the exception of Hefei (slightly reduced) and Wuhan.
  • Air cargo operations in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea are as normal.
  • Scheduled freighter flights have been cancelled to take advantage of greater opportunities in the charter market.
  • Passenger bellyhold capacity is still tiny resulting in rate increases and longer transits.

Road freight

One of the major problems for the trucking industry in the region has been the number of available drivers, but this situation is gradually improving. CEVA estimates that levels have returned to about 80% of normal capacity. Whilst some border crossings in the region are opening back up, several important ones are still closed (see below) and others such as Malaysia/Thailand are open for food and medicines only.

  • Borders between China/Vietnam and Vietnam/Laos are now open.
  • The border crossing between Laos/Thailand is still open.
  • A trucking service from China to Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand has now resumed.
  • Vietnam/Cambodia border is still closed until further notice.
  • March 31, trucks are not permitted to cross the Thailand/Malaysia border (Sadao-Bukit Kayu Hitam) and Malaysia/Singapore border (Johor-Singapore) (except for food and medicines).
  • China/Kazakhstan border (Horgos border) re-opened on March 18th.

Many crossings in the region have experienced long queues and delays of between 2-4 days. Truck drivers entering China from EU and Russia face a 14 day quarantine period.


  • There are capacity restrictions on rail services from China to Europe and many block trains are fully booked.

Source: Transport Intelligence, March 19, 2020

Author: John Manners-Bell