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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

International shipping and supply chains are in rough shape, even without a container ship lodged in the Suez Canal.

Why it matters: The pandemic threw a wrench into the gears of a global network that was already struggling with oversized ships and unbalanced product flows. Given how long it takes for the system to recover from any kind of shock, the echoes of the Ever Given disruption are likely to reverberate for months.

The pandemic caused demand for services to plunge while demand for goods — much of which are imported by ship — spiked.

  • The sheer quantity of goods moving east across the Pacific already dwarfed exports in the opposite direction, and the pandemic exacerbated that trend.

How it works: Enormous container ships run on schedules that are worked out sometimes years in advance. The industry flourishes in times of predictability, and tends to come unstuck during moments of unpredictable demand.

  • Bottlenecks have built up, especially in Southern California, with ships waiting weeks to unload their cargo. Once they're unloaded, they rush out of port quickly to allow a new ship in — so quickly that they often don't have time to reload, leaving potential U.S. exports stranded on domestic shores.
  • Because the ships are so large, their maximum speed has been reduced to the point at which they cannot make up for lost time.

The bottom line: A system of small and nimble container ships could have recovered much more easily from the Suez delays. That's not the system we have.

  • Expect U.S. retailers to continue to complain about shipping delays on earnings calls for the foreseeable future.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.