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Yiwu keeps business running amid epidemic

China Daily| Updated: August 9, 2022 L M S

Zhang Dan, who runs a company in Yiwu, a major manufacturing and export hub in Zhejiang province in eastern China, is busy handling logistical problems caused by the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the city.

The 31-year-old woman from Sichuan makes holiday decorations, like pillows and tablecloths.

"One batch that was due to depart from the port in Ningbo on Monday was canceled by the client because we will not be able to deliver in time," she said. The goods were scheduled to be loaded at Yiwu and transported to Ningbo by truck, but because the driver had to take a number of nucleic acid tests before entering the city, he was delayed.

"The impact on the business was small because this was not a prepaid order and so we were able to absorb the loss, which was just a few hundred thousand yuan."

Despite disruptions, international freight shipments from Yiwu remain relatively stable. Between Aug 2 and Aug 6, a total of 1,426 twenty-foot equivalent units were shipped overseas through Ningbo's Zhoushan Port and some 20 China-Europe freight trains left for Madrid during the same period, Yiwu officials told a news briefing on Sunday afternoon.

The city logged four cases of COVID-19 at a centralized quarantine site on Aug 2, all close contacts of confirmed cases from outside the province. By 9 pm on Sunday, the total number of infections stood at 319, with 27 positive cases and 292 asymptomatic carriers. The outbreak was caused by the arrival of the BA.5.2 variant, a more contagious strain of Omicron, according to local health authorities. The outbreak was concentrated, with most cases reported in the Jiangdong subdistrict.

Luckily for Zhang, her factory and office are in the city of Dongyang, an hour's drive from Yiwu, and so are still operating as usual.

"As long as there are no large-scale factory shutdowns, the effects are limited," she said.

Her family has been in the decoration business for over a decade, and the majority of Zhang's products are sold to Europe, Latin America and North America, places that traditionally celebrate Christmas.

"Most orders were shipped before August to make sure the goods are received before Christmas," Zhang said. "We mainly depend on orders from existing customers, made via email. Sometimes we ship samples to clients, as they are not able to come to Yiwu."

Zhang said she was aware that some businesses with factories in high-risk areas have been affected.

Strict travel controls have made it difficult for overseas traders to come to Yiwu to make purchases since the pandemic began.

Asif Sulehri, a trader from Pakistan who has been buying from Yiwu since 2006, had not been able to visit for over two years.

Before the pandemic began in 2020, he would come to the city about three times a year to buy fabrics and accessories for making garments in Pakistan.

"The biggest effects have been the high price of sea and air freight and difficult transportation within China, and it has been hard to place orders and receive shipments," Sulehri said, adding that not being able to communicate face-to-face was an added difficulty when it came to making purchasing decisions, even though he deals with reliable suppliers.

On July 30, in an effort to bring back buyers, a business flight chartered by the local government brought 160 or so Pakistani buyers back to Yiwu to do business.

Sulehri was one of them. Currently, he is undergoing a 10-day quarantine at a hotel.

"I am very happy to return to China as it has been a long time, and as soon as I can finish everything I have to do, I will return to Pakistan," he said, expressing gratitude for the chartered flight.

Despite challenges, trade in Yiwu grew rapidly in the first half of the year. The combined value of imports and exports stood at 222 billion yuan ($32.6 billion), a 32.8 percent increase year-on-year, according to Yiwu Customs.

With the local government working efficiently to control the epidemic, a second chartered flight will arrive from India on Tuesday, local officials told a news briefing on Monday afternoon.