WVU professors talk about the impact of COVID-19 on the global supply chain


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The spread of COVID-19 has caused major disruption to global supply chains and one West Virginia University professor is sharing what he thinks this means now and what it will mean for the future.

The term global supply chains refers to the production and distribution of goods around the world. The are shortages in retail, medical and other essential supplies Ednilson Bernardes, professor and program coordinator of the Global Supply Chain Management program, West Virginia University John Chambers College of Business and Economics said.

He said the reason that there have been shortages is because of the virus started in China, a major manufacturing and distribution hub for the globe and then spread to the rest of the world disrupting virtually all major suppliers and distributors.

“There are companies that are coordinating actions among themselves and with the government as well to provide essential items, mainly medical supplies, which is what we need urgently,” Bernardes said. “Considering the pandemic is still developing and we don’t know when it’ll peak, how long it will take and how far, how high the peak will be, this is very important.”

The U.S. is in the early stages of in terms of feeling the impact however, it will start to feel it as badly as other countries who are further along in the process of viral spread. In terms of the food supply chain, Bernardes said, the U.S. is pretty robust.

Despite the being shortages, food staples are available, it is only because the public is panic-shopping, buying more than necessary, that things seem worse than they are Bernardes said. Demand has surged very quickly and it will take some time for the supply chain to adapt but it is already in the process of adapting.

“From our side as customers I think responsible shopping is very important so we don’t overwhelm the system beyond what the system already is,” Bernardes said. “The system has really had a lot of pressure on it so social buying, social buying smart is going to help the system as well.”

After this crisis is over and even before then, many will ask if the global supply chain needs to be broken up to use on national or hyper-localized supply chains. Bernardes does not think the world will move away from the global model because it is necessary to support our modern lifestyle.

However, he said he does foresee changes in how the supply chains are structured. Companies like to manufacture products in China and Southeast Asia because the profit margins are higher and you cannot expect that to change. What you can expect to change quite a bit is some of the manufacturing of essential products like medical supplies will be relocated closer to the U.S.

That way if China, India or anywhere else were to shut down we could still have some manufacturing close to home.

“If you think about masks and medicines,” Bernardes said. “We have a lot of the active ingredients for the medicines here in the U.S. but they are produced abroad. India being one of them, but as of yesterday, India is shut down, that has an impact.”

The issue of a global shutdown will come up again, Bernardes said, so we must be prepared and not make the same mistakes that have left us in our current predicament.

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