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On 12 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) categorised the coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China as a pandemic. This was followed with a call for all countries to take “urgent and aggressive action” to change the course of the pandemic.
At the time of writing there are over 22 million reported cases globally, and more than 775,000 fatalities.
Following is a snapshot of the current affairs both locally and internationally.
Australia’s reported cases sits at 23,559 as at 18 August with 421 reported fatalities from the virus. The large increase over the last two months is attributed to the outbreak clusters in the state of Victoria, with the Aged Care sector badly affected.
The Victorian outbreak occurred just as other states were intending to relax restrictions, particularly regarding interstate movements. The result is that all states within Australia have closed their borders to Victorians without a permit for essential travel. Logistics remains an essential service so interstate deliveries remain possible.
Victoria has imposed Stage 4 restrictions in Greater Melbourne region, and Stage 3 restrictions for regional Victoria. These restrictions see a return to working from home for all employees that can, as well as a return to home learning for all students across Victoria. These restrictions were imposed for a six-week period and are due to end on 13 September. While community transmission numbers remain high, there is a sense of optimism that they are trending downwards, with reports of 222 new cases for 18 August against 282 on 17 August, and a state high of 725 cases on 5 August.
The Stage 4 restrictions have also implemented change to the way most businesses in Melbourne can operate. Warehousing and distribution centres are required to reduce their staff onsite by 33% while increasing the regularity of deep cleaning and implementing COVIDSafe plans focussed on the safety, prevention and response for coronavirus cases linked to their workplace.
For further information relating to these restrictions, visit the Victoria State Government’s Department of Health and Human Services website.
Full information regarding each states border restrictions can be accessed here.
The delivery of all Australian Government services has been classified as essential services by the Federal Government. All biosecurity and imported food inspection operations will continue to be delivered, including treatments offered by third parties that are, by extension, considered essential services.
Australian importing associations have been in discussions with ATO and Treasury in an attempt to have the Government allow deferral of duty and GST for all importers. The logic was that many importers will be feeling the pinch due to lack of sales which will result in cashflow issues. Australian Trusted Traders already have access to an opt-in duty deferral scheme. In addition, importers suffering from hardship as a result of Coronavirus may apply to the Department of Home Affairs for consideration of a payment plan for duties owing to the Government.
The ATO already operates a deferred GST scheme which is available to all importers that meet with the set requirements, namely monthly online lodgement of their Business Activity Statement and no outstanding debts. ATO is currently fast-tracking these applications so any importers feeling uneasy regarding their cashflow may wish to investigate this scheme.
The Australian Government announced on 30 April 2020, the implementation of a new temporary Bylaw to allow the importation of certain goods for use in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of spread of coronavirus. The Bylaw was in force from 1 February 2020 until 31 July 2020, however a further Bylaw was introduced to cover imports between 1 August 2020 and 31 December 2020. The Bylaw allows items such as face masks; gloves; gowns and clothes; goggles, glasses, eye visors and face shields; disinfectants (excluding hand sanitisers); soaps; Covid 19 test kits and reagents; and viral transport media, to be imported free from duty.
The Australian Government has released its COVIDSafe App, which tracks movement of persons and allows traceability of those movements in the event somebody later contracts the virus. Residents are still being urged to download the application to assist with tracking and visibility during the pandemic.
The number of cases continues to rise rapidly, with the United States, Brazil and India the worst affected countries. Cases also continue to rise throughout Europe however, many European Governments have relaxed restrictions on their residents in a bid to boost their economies. Most services have resumed with residents urged to practice good hygiene, social distancing and mandated to wear masks in public. Many countries within the EU also have their own border restrictions in place and have shown willingness to lockdown regions where outbreaks are detected.
New Zealand has seen a spike in new cases linked to a cluster at a cold storage facility, with 13 new cases reported on 17 August and a total number of cases now totalling 90. Auckland is at Alert Level 3, and the rest of New Zealand is at Alert Level 2 until 26 August.
Importers and exporters are urged to obtain current updates from their suppliers, customers and freight forwarders regarding the current restrictions in each country.
Space remains tight for all air cargo internationally. Priority is usually given to medicines and other medical appliances. Customers are urged to book in advance for any air cargoes intended for import or export.
Airlines have suffered significant stress during the periods of lockdown. Many airlines are beginning to ramp up their cargo schedules in a bid to generate enough cash-flow to sustain operations. Many US airlines received a reprieve due to the bailout bill passed into law, however Colombia’s national carrier, Avianca, has declared bankruptcy.
The German Government has reached an agreement with Lufthansa over a EUR9bn bailout package. In exchange, the Government will take a 20% stake in the airline.
Closer to home, Virgin Australia entered into voluntary administration on 21st April. The US private equity group Bain Capital has purchased the airline, which is currently operating flights within Australia on a reduced schedule due to the pandemic.
As global lockdowns continue to lift there will be a clamour for collection of export cargoes and empty equipment. Our partners overseas will be co-ordinating with suppliers and shipping lines to schedule collection and routing to move the goods as required. Delays should be anticipated at this time.
Shipping lines are currently experiencing high demand, with many vessels being fully booked for several weeks. Importers and exporters should plan ahead to allow plenty of time to obtain space for an intended sailing.
On 30 March 2020, the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 were temporarily amended to prohibit the non-commercial export of certain medical goods from Australia. These items include disposable face masks, gloves and gowns as well as protective eyewear and alcohol wipes and hand sanitiser.
Australia has strict border measures in place to protect the health of its community. There are limited flights available to and from Australia so it may not be possible to travel at this time.
Travellers arriving into Australia are subject to mandatory quarantine for 14 days at the traveller’s expense.
Australia has extended its cruise ship ban until at least 17th September 2020.
Impact in China
China continues to test non-symptom patients in an effort to control community transmission that led to a brief second wave of cases. Reported cases sit at 83,001 as at 3rd June with 4,634 reported fatalities.
Most new cases being diagnosed in China are ‘imported’ cases (reported at 63) and there has been a small spike in the past two weeks. Most large cities have kept entertainment facilities closed in a bid to avoid a second wave of diagnoses.
The city of Shulan in NE China was locked down from 10th May resulting from a small cluster of new cases. There are reportedly 108 cases being treated in 12 Chinese cities.
China Customs Notice No.53 of 10th April 2020 has confirmed that eleven medical related items will now be inspected to ensure the quality of exported goods. This appears to be in response to claims globally of inferior product being exported as brand name goods. These shipments can expect delays. The goods in question are PPE, thermometers, ventilators, hair nets, protective glasses and goggles, medical gloves, shoe covers, patient monitoring devices, medical wadding and gauze and disinfectants.
Concerns remain relating to delays in clearance at ports and airports due to lack of commercial and regulatory paperwork from suppliers and Government departments alike.
Industry associations raised concerns with Department of Agriculture (DoA) regarding possible delays for consignments that cannot be released from Biosecurity control due to minor documentary amendments being required and not able to be obtained from the Chinese Authorities. Advice received from DoA is that as the issues and delays are only anticipated at this stage, the Department will not be revising any of its documentary policies to accommodate. If consignments are received that will be held pending documentation, movement of goods to an appropriate class of Approved Arrangement site should be requested.
ABF has made some allowances regarding unsigned MAFTA CoOs. Some certificates are being issued without a stamp and signature, which will be accepted on the condition that we are able to provide ABF with a dump of the MITI system screen showing that the certificate was approved by MITI. The dating of the CoO must also be within the period of the Malaysian Government Movement Control Order (18th March – 14th April). This only covers MAFTA certificates and not AANZFTA certificates.
If you have any shipments en-route to Australia and are missing documentation, please contact your Key Account Manager to discuss options.
Department of Health
A fact sheet has been issued by Department of Health for border workers with concerns about handling and destuffing imported goods from Hubei province. The fact sheet confirms items such as symptoms of the virus and how to minimise risk of exposure or contracting the virus. This fact sheet has important information for the wider community as well and is worthwhile reading.
Further information can also be found at the Department of Health’s website www.health.gov.au.
Henning Harders Business Continuity Plan
Henning Harders has successfully implemented its “Work from Home” contingency arrangements. Supported by our advanced operating system development, this was managed in stages to ensure a seamless transition with no business interruption.
By carefully managing the relocation of resources in stages throughout the last week, we are now positioned to ensure both the safety and wellbeing of our staff as well as the continued operations and service our business partners and clients have grown accustomed to.
Our employee email signatures have been updated with direct line details to allow for ease of contact.
As the news of the outbreak is ever-changing, Australia’s response remains fluid. Henning Harders will continue to update stakeholders as news develops.
Please contact your Key Account Manager or Harders Advisory for further information.