|Top US Shippers: Household goods, furniture imports still building (
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people’s homes have become more than their le; it’s their office, gym, school, theater, and restaurant. As a result, many Americans have been renovating and redecorating their homes, evidenced by an 11.9 percent increase in containerized imports of household goods in 2020, a year-to-year swing of more than 17 percentage points.
All those meals at home inspired a 36.4 percent increase in ware imports, the fastest-growing segment of the household goods category, according to PIERS, a sister product of JOC.com within IHS Markit. Containerized imports of household art, appliances such as refrigerators and heat pumps, mattress supports, and bedding also recorded low double-digit percentage increases.
The growth in household goods imports last year represented more than just pandemic or stimulus sping — it included some pent-up demand. Those imports had ped 5.5 percent in 2019 after three solid years of growth, including 11.9 percent and 9 percent expansions in 2017 and 2018. The turnaround came as the US economy — and retail furniture stores — began to re in mid-2020.
That rebound, pumped up by new home construction and rising home values, shows no sign of slowing in 2021. “Even though our undelivered backlog is up almost four times [from this time] last year, our current incoming orders are continuing at the elevated pace we have seen since January,” Clarence H. Smith, chairman and CEO of furniture retailer Havertys, said in an April 28 earnings call.
Year-over-year comparisons for the first quarter are skewed by store closures in mid-March 2020, but unadjusted furniture store sales rose 20.4 percent in the first three months of the year compared with the same 2020 period, according to the latest US Census Bureau data. The store sales figures do not include the sales of online retailers such as Wayfair, which increased its revenue 49.2 percent year over year in the first quarter, according to Wayfair’s most recent financial statements.
And Havertys isn’t alone. Ashley Furniture, the largest US furniture importer by volume, is adding a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, to help meet growing US demand. In January, the Wisconsin-based company said it would sp $1 billion on manufacturing, distribution, automation, and technology globally over the following 18 months.
The first quarter of 2021 also saw supply chain disruption from container shortages and port delays, but shippers say demand for household goods imports remains strong.
Havertys received 10 percent more product in the first quarter than in the fourth quarter of 2020 and expects to match or exceed that inbound flow in the second quarter, despite shipment delays and production problems. February’s severe storms, for example, shut down plants that make foam for mattresses, slowing the flow of final products to Havertys showrooms.
“We have not seen a slowing of orders or significantly higher cancelation rates even with the longer wait times for furniture,” Smith told analysts during an April 28 earnings call. “While we do not know how long we will see these dramatic increases in incoming orders, we believe that the importance and the value of the home has risen dramatically in the past year.”
Demand for household goods may rise even if consumers sping more money on services and travel. “The elevated importance of home is a longer-term sustainable tr in America,” Smith said.
A year ago, most retailers and analysts believed the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession would translate to a second year of declining furniture imports and a shift of manufacturing and procurement away from China. But those projections failed to foresee the effects of office closures, the sizable shift in consumer sping toward physical goods, and a significant migration away from urban areas on demand for home improvement products.
Consumers are expected to sp 4.8 percent more on home improvement projects in 2021 than they did last year, according to Harvard University’s Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity.
“With a financial boost from recent federal stimulus payments and strong house price appreciation, homeowners are continuing to invest in the upkeep and improvement of their homes,” Chris Herbert, managing director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said in an April 15 statement. Some homeowners are planning or starting large-scale projects deferred during the pandemic, he said.
US imports of Chinese-made household goods tumbled 17 percent in 2019, the first decrease in household goods imports from China since 2011. Trump administration tariffs were expected to push more manufacturing from China to neighboring Southeast Asian countries, led by Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia, as well as Taiwan and Korea and possibly Mexico. But as furniture demand soared last year, US importers turned to suppliers in China despite the burden of US tariffs and higher manufacturing costs. So far in 2021, the need to have goods ready to sell and deliver to customers is taking priority over the cost of procuring and transporting those products.
Southeast Asian countries did make double-digit percentage gains in furniture exports to the US last year, but imports from China also grew. Despite a steady decline in market share over the last two years, China still accounted for 55.8 percent of US household goods imports, down from 66.9 percent in 2018. Vietnam held the second-largest share of the household goods market last year at 19.4 percent.
Retailers such as Havertys are planning for elevated demand that will last throughout 2021 and dealing with higher transportation and distribution costs both from overseas and to final US destinations. “We’re planning to increase our inventories as the production and product flow improves and are investing in additional warehouse capacities in our distribution network,” Smith said.
Vietnams business hub Ho Chi Minh imposes social distancing rules to curb Covid-19 spread
HANOI (REUTERS, XINHUA) - Vietnams business hub Ho Chi Minh City will social distancing measures in the city for 15 days starting from May 31 in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Sunday (May 30).
"All events that gather more than 10 people in public are banned city-wide, but the city is considering to lower the number of people to just five," Tuoi Tre newspaper reported. "While all citizens of Go Vap district are not allowed to go out if not necessary," the report added.
Ho Chi Minh City earlier this week shut down shops and restaurants.
Vietnam reported 52 new Covid-19 cases from 6pm local time Saturday to 6am Sunday, raising the total confirmed cases in the country to 6,908, according to the Ministry of Health.
The new infections, which are all community transmissions, include 35 in the northern epidemic hotspot Bac Giang province, six in the nearby northern Bac Ninh province, 10 in the southern Ho Chi Minh City, and one in the northern Hai Phong city.
All of them are contacts of previously confirmed patients or linked to the clusters of infections in the localities.
Nationwide, as many as 2,896 patients have recovered.
As of Sunday morning, Vietnam has recorded a total of 5,406 domestically transmitted cases, including 3,836 detected since the start of the latest outbreak in late April.
3 major cruise lines just made it clear their ships won’t all be back for a long time
It’s official: It’s going to take many, many months for Norwegian Cruise Line to get all of its ships back into operation.
Ditto for Norwegian’s two sister lines, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The three cruise brands on Wednesday announced restart plans for more than half of their collective fleets with restart dates for ships that still are five to nine months away.
The restart plans covered eight of Norwegian’s 17 ships, three of Oceania’s six ships and four of Regent’s five ships.
The earliest restart date announced for any of the vessels was Oct. 16. Some of the vessels won’t be back in operation until February of 2022.
The announcements come as the lines prepare to tiptoe back into cruising over the next four months with sailings on just a handful of vessels and are consistent with longstanding plans at the brands to return to cruising in a gradual way.
How a False Sense of Security, and a Little Secret Tea, Broke Down Taiwans COVID-19 Defenses
All it took to break down the world’s most vaunted COVID-19 defense was a little secret tea.
After almost 18 months of nearly unblemished success keeping the coronavirus pandemic at bay—including the world’s longest streak of case-free days—Taiwan is now in the grip of its first major COVID-19 surge. Total cases, which had been below 1,300 through the entire pandemic, have surged to more than 3,100 in the span of a week. Many offices have sent workers home, the streets of the capital Taipei have cleared out and the government has begun scrambling to secure vaccines to improve one of the worst inoculation rates in the developed world.
The outbreak likely began after spilling over from cargo plane crews. However, the bulk of the surge has been traced back to two sources: a local Lions Club International gathering, and tea houses in the red-light district of Taipei’s Wanhua neighborhood. The two clusters were at first thought to be unrelated—until a former president of the Lions Club revealed that he had visited one of the tea houses.
The movements of the civic leader in his 60s, nicknamed by Chinese-language media “The Lion King,” show he had at least 115 contacts while potentially infectious—and reveal just how vulnerable the island of 23 million was to a major outbreak.
After rapidly imposing world-leading infection control measures, Taiwan slowly began to let down its guard last summer. Crowds of thousands of people were allowed to return to concerts, baseball games and religious festivals. Large meals and family gatherings became increasingly common, and masks became rarer as months passed with no local infections.
“Last year, we started to kind of go out, but deal with it in a careful way,” says Freddy Lim, a rockstar turned lawmaker who represents Wanhua in Taiwan’s legislature. “But this year, I think we forgot the part about being careful.”
Taiwan’s outbreak is now proving to be a test of whether a society relatively untouched by COVID-19 can effectively put to use the lessons the rest of the world learned the hard way.
How Taiwan’s COVID-19 defenses failed
Taiwan’s fight against COVID-19 began on Dec. 31, 2019—the day the first reports emerged of a mysterious viral pneumonia in Wuhan, China. By Jan. 2, 2020, health officials began screening arrivals from mainland China. Authorities set up temperature checks and stronger border controls in the following weeks—before the World Health Organization had even confirmed that the virus was spread by human-to-human transmission.
The self-ruled island, which is claimed by Beijing, implemented strict infection control measures at hospitals and was among the first places to close its borders to nearly all non-residents and order strict quarantines for anyone who did arrive. Masks were distributed to the population and made mandatory in places like mass transit by March. Meanwhile, police closely monitored travelers to ensure they adhered strictly to quarantines and contact tracers pried deeply into infected people’s movements to ensure close contacts were found and isolated.
All of this meant that by mid-April 2020 Taiwan had only about 400 confirmed cases. At the same time, the U.S. was reporting more than 30,000 infections per day.
The success was 17 years in the making, dating back to the 2003 SARS outbreak, which also originated in mainland China and ed dozens on the island, says Dr. Chen Chien-Jen, who served as Taiwan’s Vice President until last May.
Chen, an epidemiologist and former health minister, helped to design and lead Taiwan’s COVID-19 control measures. So why did those protocols fail after holding out successfully through the worst of the pandemic?
“Life will find its way out, as said in Jurassic Park,” Chen tells TIME. “The virus will always try to replicate, to mutate, and it becomes more and more infectious.”
The majority of recent COVID-19 cases reported in Taiwan are the virus variant first found in the U.K., which scientists believe is more easily transmitted. Complicating this is the fact that many patients have only minor symptoms or none at all and don’t know they’re spreading COVID-19 until it’s too late.
This appears to be what happened in the “Lion King” case. Dozens of people connected to the Lions Club cluster were infected by one or more carriers who believed it was safe to socialize.
But, lax adherence to the island’s safety protocols also played a role. Taiwan’s current community outbreak began in April with cargo plane crews at the Novotel at Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. The hotel violated COVID-19 rules by housing quarantined flight crews and non-quarantine guests in the same building. In mid-April, Taiwan also lowered quarantine requirements for non-vaccinated flight crews from five days to just three. At least 29 cases are linked to the Novotel cluster, including hotel staff. Officials say cases in the Novotel cluster, the Lions Club cluster, and the cluster of cases in Wanhua’s red light district were all infected with the same strain of the coronavirus—suggesting they have a common source.
Taiwan’s tea shops become a COVID-19 breeding ground
Chen, now a distinguished professor at the Academia Sinica in Taipei, also concedes that he and others behind Taiwan’s COVID-19 surveillance program never envisioned how the shadowy world of Taiwan’s hostess tea shops would be uniquely vulnerable to spreading COVID-19 like wildfire.
Many of the Wanhua tea shops are relatively innocent: clients are mostly older men who have tea with middle-age hostesses who keep them company and make conversation. However, some reportedly operate as fronts for brothels and employ migrant women who are in Taiwan illegally.
It’s not hard to see how COVID-19 would ricochet easily through such an environment. The shops are often poorly ventilated and dimly lit. It’s also common for patrons to “bar-hop” from shop to shop and mingle with multiple hostesses and other patrons. “There is no way that you can wear masks in the tea houses, no matter if it is with sex workers or a just normal tea houses because you are eating food, you are drinking tea and you are singing, and so on,” says Lim, the legislator for the area.
Combine that with customers who aren’t eager to tell contact tracers—or their own families—that they visited such an infamous area, along with marginalized workers who may be hesitant to come forward, and the red-light district in Wanhua has become the catalyst for more than 1,000 of the infections reported across Taiwan.
Chen says health officials didn’t believe the tea houses would be a problem because two previous cases where COVID-19 patients went to other so-called “adult entertainment” venues didn’t result in transmissions.
Taiwan’s vaccine shortfall
The other major reason that COVID-19 has spiked so quickly in Taiwan is that the virus found virgin immune territory. Very few people have been exposed and thus very few have antibodies. Taiwan’s vaccination rollout has also been almost non-existent.
The island received just 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before the outbreak and had been hard-pressed to administer even those, with less than 2% of the population immunized. That’s a number that stands out even in Asia, which has lagged much of the rest of the world in vaccine rollouts.
The problem has been both supply and demand. The lack of virus on the island has meant most Taiwanese people see no urgency in getting vaccinated. Incidence of side-effects, including the very rare occurrence of blood clots for the AstraZeneca vaccine, have been heavily reported by local media. A YouGov survey in early May found that just 40% of Taiwanese people said they were willing to be vaccinated—second-lowest among 21 places polled around the world. Since the outbreak, demand for vaccines has increased dramatically.
Taiwan also waited until after COVID-19 vaccines were authorized by other regulators to striking deals to buy them, says Chen. By then, most of the first batches were long snapped up by other governments—many of which had helped fund their development. So while Taiwan has secured some 20 million doses of vaccine from various sources, it is farther back in the line than most developed economies.
The government in Beijing, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province that must be reunited with the rest of China, has offered to provide vaccine doses, though Taiwanese officials accused the mainland of trying to sow confusion and discord with the offer. The U.S. has pledged to help once it releases its stockpile of millions of AstraZeneca doses. On Wednesday, 400,000 doses arrived from COVAX, the international vaccine distribution scheme.
Taiwan’s two domestically developed vaccines may be more likely to fill the gap. The government has promised to rolling them out in July following the completion of Phase 2 safety trials, which have been carried out on 4,000 test subjects for each vaccine. Chen says that unpublished studies of the two vaccines show they provoke similar antibody levels to other vaccines that are already proven effective in fighting COVID-19. The government plans to authorize the vaccines before completing Phase 3 efficacy trials.
Learning from the world’s mistakes
The government has responded swiftly to the surge in cases: It has ed testing centers in hotspots, restricted the size of gatherings, began enforcing mask mandates with hefty fines, shut down schools and urged residents to stay home.
But Taiwan’s most effective weapon in fighting COVID-19 may be its people. Whereas most new surges around the world are met with increasing amounts of pandemic fatigue and lower levels of compliance with social distancing rules, most Taiwanese people have been—if anything—even more cautious than the government.
As cases began to spike, people rushed supermarkets, clearing shelves of food and, yes, toilet paper. The usually teeming streets of Taipei are all but empty as most people choose to stay home. Many restaurants voluntarily closed or banned indoor dining, and those who kept their dining rooms are now largely empty.
Beating this COVID-19 wave has become a point of pride. After the government imposed Level 3 pandemic restrictions—one degree below a full lockdown—memes began to circulate on social media that vowed to quash the surge in short order. “Look world, Taiwan will only show you once how to remove a Level 3 alert in two weeks,” reads a popular boast.
Ya-chu Chuang, a 28-year-old freelance stenographer, has been working from home, but could not avoid going into her workplace one day this week. When she arrived, she went through a routine that was new to her, but all-too familiar across the world for the last 18 months. She sprayed down her desk with alcohol and did everything she could to keep herself away from others in the office.
She feels like it’s her duty to do what she can to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as quickly as possible. “I know that we’re experiencing what happened abroad about a year ago,” she says. “As long as we all do what we can and follow the instructions, we will be able to overcome this crisis.”