Why the Covid Crisis is a bigger challenge for logisticians

The second wave of a pandemic is always more fatal than the first and we are also facing the same trend in India. The spread of cases in the second wave has been substantially more rapid than the first wave. From Mid-February to Mid- March, the pace of spread was not as high. But after that, the number of cases started increasing very rapidly. The Covid-19 caseload crossed 3.5 lakh mark on April 26 while the death tally stood at more than 2,800. The severity of the crisis became so high that Central and State Governments started putting all their efforts to control the spread of disease. Even many countries also came forward to support India in this hour of crisis.

This crisis is a challenge not only for the healthcare sector but also a litmus test for the logistics industry. Crisis is not only about shortages of oxygen, ICU beds, ventilators, medicines etc. Instead, the bigger issue is availability at hour of need. In the world of logistics, success is dependent on seven right (7R). These seven rights are, to deliver the right product, in the right quantity and the right condition, to the right place at the right time for the right customer at the right price. In current time of crisis, out of these seven ‘R’, three are ‘R’ not aligned. These are about right quantity at right place at right time.

As of now, major panic is due to oxygen supplies and many lives have been lost so far due to lack of oxygen. As per few estimates, the country’s production capacity of liquid oxygen is approx. 7800 MT per day, while the current peak of Covid requirement of liquid oxygen is approx. 6800 MT/day. Still, there is so panic across the country, only due to a mismatch of demand and supply points as most of the production is concentrated in the Eastern part of the country.

Current logistics infrastructure to ship liquid oxygen is not as per requirement and the availability of cryogenic tankers is a critical bottleneck. Now imports of such containers have been initiated to improve the situation, which is going to take precious time of few days. On the other hand, the use of multimodal logistics has helped in improving the turnaround time of oxygen to a great extent.

Availability of medicines is another logistics challenge. Critical medicines like Remdesivir are not reaching smoothly till patients in spite of increase in production to approx. 80 lakh vials per month. Existing distribution system is not so robust, which can efficiently deliver medicines to right patients without any leakages.

People logistics has also turned to be a major issue in this pandemic. Most of the hospitals are already overloaded. Due to lack of information, patients are facing logistics complexities and are rushing from one hospital to another for treatment. Such rush from one point to other also create a domino effect on system leading to bigger crisis like delay in treatment, death before hospitalization and availability of ambulances for other patients. In most cases, the lack of a coordinated information-sharing platform leads to such logistics challenge.

As of now, demand for specific medical devices and supplies like ventilator, concentrator, API, testing kit have skyrocketed. For matching demand of such products, the country needs immediate import from various part of the world. In the paucity of time, air mode is the only available option. While most of the belly capacity is unavailable due to the cancellation of passenger flights. Logisticians are handling these challenges through dedicated flights for essential imports and governments across the globe are supporting by way of prompt clearances.

Immunization of 7.8 bn people across the globe is a mammoth task and for that, managing a smooth supply chain from manufacturer to vaccination point is not easy, especially with temperature and quality consistency. The logistics required for this will be spread over a short span of time period, which will create a capacity crunch, especially in the air cargo segment, as most of the demand will be catered by air cargo. According to IATA estimates, these 7.8 billion doses will fill 8000 Boeing 747 aircraft. These vaccines need a temperature-controlled environment for storage and the availability of infrastructure at the last mile is also a challenge.

Pandemic has created a war-like situation for logisticians, where every minute wasted in logistics of essential supplies has its consequences. In order to tackle logistics challenges, logisticians are using technological tools especially for visibility and information sharing to improve coordination and effective management. Lack of infrastructure, lack of on-time information or lack of resources can’t be completely eliminated overnight. However, logisticians are pouring all their efforts for saving human lives.

This article has been authored by Vikash Khatri, Founder, Aviral Consulting.

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