Truckers make their way out of Covid limbo

The lockdown in Shanghai and changing travel restrictions in neighboring cities have left truckers stranded in their cabs.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP

By TANG Jun

 

Trucker driver Zhang was hauling into Suzhou from Wuhu in Jiangsu Province when he was stopped at a checkpoint right outside the city on March 27. His health app showed that he had come from an outbreak area, which barred him from entering the city. 

The receiver could theoretically get him a pass from the government. But only big companies can apply for one, and the receiver is an ordinary shop owner.

Pressure rising

Zhang called everyone he could think of – the local government, public health authority, and even the police, all to no avail. He does a PCR test every day - all negative. Still no go.

“I showed them an entire week’s negative results but they only wanted a pass,” he said. The rest area is full of trucks, just waiting.

Zhang was paid 2,800 yuan for this trip and has already spent more on food, fuel and tests. He has a 12,500-yuan-a-month mortgage on this truck. And he is sick of the convenience store diet of instant ramen and tinned sardines. Yang, another trucker, couldn’t even find that.

Yang had delivered a load of construction material for a hospital in Shanghai and was just about to leave when the neighborhood went into lockdown on April 1. Zhejiang, his destination province, allowed truckers in only if they are registered by a trucking company. Yang is an owner-driver.

All shops and restaurants were closed, and Yang had no food in the truck. Someone gave him a lunch box and he stretched it for two meals. When that ran out, he panicked. “You feel vulnerable when you’re hungry,” he said.

Jiemian News came across Yang’s SOS post on social media and, using hotline numbers posted online, was able to connect him with those in charge of his neighborhood and he was sent food, as well as the blood pressure medication needs daily.

Shanghai and neighboring provinces account for a quarter of all freight traffic in China. The outbreak and travel restrictions have strained the supply chain in the region and beyond. Some cities have banned all vehicles from Shanghai outright; others require tests, permits, and compliance to rigorous offloading protocols.

A manager at a trucking platform said almost everyone except those delivering aid have stopped coming in and out of Shanghai. Truckers are avoiding the region for fear of being stranded when regulations change. Orders to and from neighboring cities have piled up.

Help from on high

On March 31, the State Council asked local authorities not to overburden truckers with bureaucracy. “If-then-policies” (if from Shanghai then no entry) should be abolished and essential goods prioritized. Decisions need to be based on the trucks’ actual itinerary instead of where it came from. Aero Zhuanghuan, which develops navigation systems, has added new functions that allow truckers to match their itineraries with outbreaks and restrictions to make plans.

On April 4, Zhang finally unloaded his goods, but Yang is still waiting in Qingpu.

Hundreds of tons of vegetables are hauled in every day into Shanghai, the city of 26 million people. In the city, food delivery apps, e-commerce companies, and online grocers are tasked with supplying essential goods to those in need. Truckers, as much as everyone else, need to be on the go again.