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An exodus of East European drivers and major disruption to warehouse shift patterns are putting increasing pressure on the transport and logistics sector, a new report has warned.

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has seen migrant drivers attempt to return to their countries of origin, analysts at real estate firm Colliers International said.

Many warehouse operations have also been forced to introduce new cleaning processes, disrupting normal operations and slowing the distribution of vital supplies.

“To add to the challenge [of COVID-19], there is a driver shortage as large numbers of Romanian drivers have headed home only to get stuck in Hungary or other borders in Europe," explained Chris Evans, supply chain specialist at Colliers International.

"Moreover, Spanish, French and Italian lorry drivers are not operating at capacity or are unable to work due to self-isolation.

“With regards to other warehouse operations, some companies have introduced new shift patterns to split the shifts to clean down after each one and will clean again before the next shift with no interaction allowed between warehouse and office staff.

"This is not necessarily being adopted by every company but it will increasingly slowdown their stock replenishment and distribution operations.”

However, Evans also pointed to some "green shoots of positivity in China" where he claimed the containment of the virus has been successful and supply chain operations and manufacturing activity are slowly returning to their pre-outbreak level.

The company's research also revealed that panic buying had seen food production spike by 50%.

Operators who manufacture or distribute essential items are therefore in urgent need of flexible space to keep up with the increase in demand, it said.

Amazon, Ocado and all the major UK supermarkets have huge backlogs of orders. Companies are therefore implementing their contingency plans and some are in need of urgent flexible or short-term space.

“Supply chains for groceries, toiletries and medical items are strained but it is not that the items do not get to stores, but they do not get there fast enough," Evans explained.

"There seems to be the impression that supermarkets and online retailers have not executed their contingency plans fast enough. However, that said, the government was not fast enough to communicate the risks of the outbreak of this pandemic. We expect the UK supply chains to adjust quickly to meet this upsurge in demand for essential items."

Added Len Rosso, Colliers' head of industrial and logistics: “We are dealing with an unprecedented challenge but this will also create opportunities for savvy investors. The industrial and logistics sector is better-placed than some other real estate sectors such as leisure and retail to weather this storm as all age cohorts will increasingly adjust to shopping online.”