The British ports industry is requesting further support for port health authorities to prevent COVID-19 spreading and impacting businesses.
As the number of new confirmed cases of the Wuhan Coronavirus grows, particularly in mainland Europe, the British Ports Association (BPA) has today written to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP to outline the UK port sector’s growing concerns.
In the letter to the Health Secretary, the BPA’s Chief Executive Richard Ballantyne requested that the UK government find additional resource so that port health authorities, working in conjunction with public health bodies, are fully prepared for any emergency controls that need to be implemented as a result of the Wuhan Coronavirus.
The BPA has also noted that some UK ports feel they have been put in the position of having to make decisions on health matters for which they are not qualified.
In the UK, port health authorities, who are managed and resourced by local authorities, are responsible for developing health controls at seaports and airports and are tasked with preventing the introduction of dangerous epidemic diseases through shipping activity without creating unnecessary disruptions to world trade.
Commenting on the letter sent to the Health Secretary, Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive at the BPA said:
UK ports have been working closely with relevant authorities to prepare for and guard against the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus. Ports have highlighted though that it is acutely obvious local port health authorities, who are resourced by local authorities, are in real need of additional resources to prepare for such emergency situations.
The current risks from direct traffic arriving from Chinese ports is relatively low given the typical 30-40 day sailing time between UK and Asia, especially as Far East trade is forecasted to slow somewhat in the coming weeks. However, ports are acting vigilantly and as the virus appears now to be spreading around Europe, the sector is bracing itself for new risks and challenges. Short sea sailings and flights could be subject to new measures but some UK port health authorities are frantically attempting to prepare.
Our members have excellent local relationships with port health authorities and are working closely together but it does appear as if many of these bodies need additional assistance. We have also raised concerns over ports being put in the position of having to make decisions on health matters for which they are not qualified. Our gateways need to keep open and trading but they do need some appropriate support. Whether this be clear guidance from government in regards to shipping movements from high risk regions, or medical officers giving individual case by case advice.
While approximately 70% of the UK’s immigration is facilitated by air, a sizeable 30% of passenger movements are handled by seaports. Along with domestic ferry services, there are over 60 million passenger movements each year and the BPA represents all the UK’s ports who facilitate this traffic.
Mr Ballantyne adds:
Current market data shows that the impact of the Coronavirus is expected to be greater than SARS given the service sector has a greater share of the Chinese economy, China accounting for a significant amount of global seaborne imports and global shipbuilding, and the majority of ship repair. We understand economists’ estimate the Chinese GDP growth reduction will be around 2% for the first three months of 2020, with a global GDP reduction of 0.2% for this period.
Many businesses in the UK are also starting to see the impacts of the disruption caused by extended factory shutdown and supply chain issues. Currently we understand that there are expected to be 6 million fewer global shipping container movements and a 20% decline in Chinese-Europe trade. This along with further potential disruptions to logistics chains in the UK lead to certain product shortages for British businesses and consumers.
The letter to the Health Secretary has two asks:
- An urgent meeting with the Health Secretary and colleagues from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, under which the policy for port health authorities lie.
- Additional resource so that port health authorities, working on conjunction with public health bodies, are fully prepared for any emergency controls that need to be implemented.
The BPA will be continuing to liaise closely with the Department for Transport, following developments closely and have also prepared our own guidance note for UK ports (see link below) as this is quite an unique and unprecedented situation facing the sector.