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18 March 2020

… Johan Woxenius, professor of shipping economics & logistics at Gothenburg University and a member of the Lighthouse program committee. As an "expert on virus effects on the economy and business" he would have participated in an after work seminar titled Hotet mot hälsan this week. The seminar was canceled because of the Corona epidemic.

An irony of fate, right?

"Yes, the interest was too high. It was expected that 300 - 400 people would come, many of them elderly. The risk of infection had been too high."

The seminar promised, among other things, a discussion about how vulnerable our society is and how we will be affected by a pandemic? How would you answer that question today?

"If we stick to shipping, it will be interesting to see how shipping companies like Stena Line and Viking Line, which both carry passengers and cargo, will act. Will there be business as usual or will departures or lines be cancelled if passengers are too few? Economically, I believe it’s important that the flow of goods works."

There have been reports of an emergency situation in the shipping industry , that food and drug supply is threatened. How should the government adhere to the emergency signal?

"Freight flows need to work and ferries have an important infrastructure role. I think an open dialogue between shipping companies and the public sector is needed to keep traffic at a level so that goods are not getting stuck in the ports. The shipping companies' problem is that when revenues disappear their left with large fixed costs. Maritime segments that focus on basic commodities, ie the main part of shipping, I do not thing will be hit so directly."

So how is the situation in a week or a month?

"It depends on how production and distribution systems are affected. Goods are transported because there is a higher value of the goods elsewhere. If stores are closing, companies will try to slow down the flow in order not to build up stock. The most impact will be within continents, but shipping is not as dominant as between continents. However, the timeline is important as the vessels coming here from Asia were loaded 6-8 weeks ago when China had low production. And now there are problems with the provision. The production systems also consist of many stages that are affected at different speeds. We are likely to see a jerky period ahead and many logisticians will be engaged in making the supply chains work."

How does this affect ordinary people? Will the food shelves in stores be empty?

"There is no direct supply problem for groceries. That’s the message from the authorities. The problem is that customers do not really trust this and bunker. With more people working or studying at home, more food will also be distributed through stores and notthrough stores and not through restaurants and school meals, but we will eat about as much. However, we can not be as picky as before. There may be a lack of specific goods or food."Related content: Artikel ur Sjöfartstidningen 19 mars: Stena lägger ner linje

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