The coronavirus cargo conundrum

LONDON — The battle against coronavirus is starting to look like a real war — complete with its own air force base.

A decommissioned RAF airport in the English county of Suffolk is set to see 20,000 shipping containers filled with unwanted goods stacked on its runway as shuttered shops can’t sell while Chinese factories churn out and ship orders made long before the world went into lockdown.

It’s just one of the massive changes to logistics resulting from the coronavirus pandemic that has upended normal shipping and retail patterns, reshaped rail transport and stranded tens of thousands of seafarers on cargo ships around the world.

Warehouse backlog

Ex-World War II airbase RAF Bentwaters, now known as Bentwaters Parks, could be a crucial dumping ground for the U.K. freight sector, which is struggling to store tons of nonessential items imported from Asia, such as clothing, manufacturing parts and electronics, which are not currently being sold during the COVID-19 lockdown.

After an initial shutdown in Chinese manufacturing during the worst of the coronavirus outbreak there during February and March, goods bound for U.K. shops are set to surge during May as a backlog of orders reaches British shores.

But there’s one problem: Many of those high street retailers have been forced to close under lockdown rules imposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meaning a brick wall at the end of the supply chain.

The blockage means a good chunk of the 50,000 shipping containers set to flow into Britain each week through May need a temporary home. With U.K. warehouses already near capacity, the industry is scrambling to find storage until the lockdown is lifted.

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