Courtesy Bloomberg News, January 11, 2021
Covid-19 Holds Up Chrome at Key Border for World’s No. 1 Source

South African restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 are snarling shipments of chrome from the world’s biggest supplier of the steel ingredient.

Trucks have formed a 21-kilometer (13-mile) queue on either side of Lebombo — the border post that’s a key transit point for chrome-ore shipments being ferried from mines in the nation’s north to the port of Maputo in Mozambique. South Africa accounts for about four-fifths of global supply of the metal and ships about one-third of its output via the neighboring country.

The congestion is the result of new protocols that have been introduced to try and slow the number of Covid-19 infections, according to freight companies. Entrants to South Africa are being tested for the disease as they arrive, and any positive cases result in the entire border being closed for four hours for decontamination.

The number of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa, where a more-contagious variant of the illness was discovered in December, has increased fivefold in the past month to a record of more than 20,000 a day.

“Under normal circumstances each of our trucks moves four loads in six days,” said Bernard Lunga, managing director of trucking company Bensco Logistics. “Currently, they have only moved one load in five days.”

Billions Lost

The Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations estimates that truckers are losing the equivalent of 33 million rand ($2.2 million) a day because of the delays. Similar backlogs at Beitbridge, which links South African ports with Zimbabwe and other northern landlocked neighbors, cost the South African transport industry 2.5 billion rand in December, said Mike Fitzmaurice, CEO of the federation.

The transport industry is struggling to recover after one of the world’s strictest lockdowns crimped South African exports last year, and is likely to result in the economy contracting the most in nine decades. Total cargo traffic in the nation fell 6% to 200.4 million tons in the 11 months through November, according to data from Transnet, the state-owned ports and rail operator.

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