Red Alerts in China as Floods Maroon Equipment Needed to Fight Virus

SHANGHAI—Large parts of China were reeling on Friday from the worst floods in decades, as disruption mounted for supply chains, including for personal protective equipment (PPE), vital in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

The central city of Wuhan and the provinces of Anhui, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang declared red alerts as heavy rain swelled rivers and lakes.

Wuhan, on the banks of the Yangtze river where the novel coronavirus emerged late last year, warned residents to take precautions as water levels fast approached their maximum guaranteed safety level.

The summer rainy season brings floods to China almost every year but the impact of the disruption they cause is being felt further afield as Chinese goods become more important in global supply chains for various items, including PPE.

Residents ride a boat past a damaged and flood-affected house near the Poyang Lake due to torrential rains in Poyang county, Shangrao city in China’s central Jiangxi province on July 15, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)
This aerial view shows a bridge leading to the inundated Tianxingzhou island in Wuhan, China on July 13, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s just creating another major roadblock here in terms of PPE getting into the United States—it is the worst of times for it to happen but that’s what we’re dealing with right now,” said Michael Einhorn, president of Dealmed, a U.S. medical supply distributor, which sources disposable lab coats and other products from Wuhan and nearby regions.

“We cannot get product out for over a week, which is a very long time in our business,” he said, adding that the delays could last up to three weeks.

Xiantao, just west of Wuhan, is China’s biggest manufacturer of nonwoven fabrics used in PPE production. A third of China’s total exports of nonwoven fabric products are from the city.

With the relentless rain, more misery seems inevitable.

The Three Gorges Dam, a gigantic hydropower project on the Yangtze River, discharges water in Yichang, central China’s Hubei province on June 29, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The giant Three Gorges reservoir, which has been holding back more water to try to ease downstream flood risks, is more than 10 meters higher than its warning level, with inflows now at more than 50,000 cubic meters a second.

The Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province, which is formed from the overspill of the Yangtze, is 2.5 meters higher than its warning level. It has expanded by more than 2,000 square kilometers during this flood season, and parts of the surrounding town have been inundated.

Further east, the Tai lake near Shanghai has also declared a red alert after its water level rose to nearly a meter higher than its safe level.

Economic activity in other parts of China, especially construction and steel and cement demand, has also been hurt by the flooding, analysts say, suggesting some loss of momentum after a stronger than expected bounce in the second quarter from the coronavirus crisis.

“We estimate recent floods in Yangtze River regions could lead to a gross drag of 0.4-0.8 percentage points on third-quarter GDP growth,” analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a note to clients on Friday.

By David Stanway

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