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Coronavirus may clog up Santa’s supply chains

Stores are warning of shortages for everything from children's toys to turkeys.

Covid-19 and government restrictions were already making for a somewhat gloomy Christmas this year. Now there’s reports that even the dinner on the table and presents under the tree could be under threat. Basically, a lot of shops don’t think they’ll have enough stock during the festive period because of problems in their supply chain.

A supply chain is the process that an item has to travel through before reaching a customer. It includes the creation and transportation of all the different parts that make up a product as well as the assembly and further transportation of the final good. In our modern world supply chains are often big and complex. Lots of companies tend to be involved because it is common for businesses to specialise in a particular part of the process rather than overseeing the whole thing. For example, an iPhone designed by Apple could be sold by Carphone Warehouse, delivered by the Royal Mail, powered by Foxconn microchips and installed with software - such as Google Maps and Gmail - created by Alphabet.

Every part of a supply chain needs to function smoothly for customers to be able to get their hands on goods without delays or other problems. The longer the supply chain is, the more chances there are that something will go wrong. An event like the coronavirus pandemic, which has walloped the whole world at once, is therefore particularly tricky to navigate for companies that rely on complex supply chains.

There are several reasons why UK supply chains could be under particular strain this Christmas. Many more people are now attempting to order online, so more delivery drivers and delivery vans and warehouse workers are required. But at the same time there are staff shortages. This is probably partly because the delivery industry already struggled to attract workers and partly because of more staff having to take time off for illness, quarantines or care responsibilities during the pandemic. On top of that, various ports and depots have become logjammed because of things like Brexit preparations and a not-yet-used government order of 11,000 containers of PPE.

Read our explainer on: supply chains.

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