Running Out of iPhones, Vacuums and Fish: Coronavirus Shutdown Hits Israeli Stores

China’s manufacturing shutdown, in an attempt to contain the virus’s spread, is causing products to disappear from shelves

Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane
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A man wearing a face mask walks through a shopping mall in Beijing on February 11, 2020.
A man wearing a face mask walks through a shopping mall in Beijing on February 11, 2020.Credit: AFP
Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane

The effects of the new coronavirus are starting to reach ordinary Israelis, as China’s manufacturing shutdown in an attempt to contain the virus’s spread is causing products to disappear from shelves.

Israeli electronics importers are starting to report shortages of popular smartphone models including Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxy and Xiaomi brand.

In addition, stores are reporting shortages of cordless and robotic vacuum cleaners, from brands including the Chinese brand Jimmy and Roidmi, and robotic vacuum cleaners from Roborock and iLife.

Earbuds and speakers are also in short supply.

Shortages are expected in a long list of foods imported from China, including fresh garlic and frozen fish, and major Israeli clothing brands such as Castro-Hoodies, Adika and Delta have announced that the halt in production is affecting their supply chain.

Furthermore, Israel has seen a run on surgical masks, as Israelis panicked and bought out stocks. As of Monday, surgical masks were no longer available for buyers outside the medical system, and it’s not clear when they’ll be back in stock. In an average month Israelis buy about 2,000 packages of masks; in the wake of the corona outbreak, 60,000 boxes were sold in 10 days.

Israel’s Fish Breeders Association warned that the country is likely to see a shortage of frozen tilapia over Passover. Chinese imports account for 75% of the market, while 15% is locally raised fish and another 10% is imported from Europe. The local association said that since import duties were slashed and the market was opened to imports in 2016 , Chinese fish has taken over the market. Israel imported some 21.5 tons of Chinese fish in 2019, said Eli Sharir, the association’s head.

Tilapia fillets typically sell for 25 shekels ($7.35) per kilogram, but are currently selling around 40 shekels a kilogram, and that price is likely to increase as the shortage worsens.

The shortage affects other kinds of fish and seafood imported from China, including cod, sole, shrimp and calamari.

Rami Levy, head of the discount chain Rami Levy Shivuk Hashikma, noted, “The factories in China told us last week that there’s no supply and in any case we wouldn’t be ordering due to the situation,” he said. His warehouses have a three-month supply of frozen fish, and in the meanwhile they’ll be looking for alternative sources, he said. “Naturally, the price will be increasing,” he said.

Sharir noted that it takes about two years to raise a fish, so there won’t be any miracle solution coming from local farmers.

Israel also imports massive quantities of garlic and ginger from China. These products, too, are expected to be lacking.

Israel imports some 6,000 tons of garlic from China, about 50% of local consumption, according to the Plants Production and Marketing Board. There are no precise figures on ginger, but it is believed to be less than garlic.

Trade with China

According to Economy Ministry data, trade with China (not including diamonds) was worth $11.24 billion in 2019, down from $11.47 billion in 2018. The biggest part of that was in electronic and mechanical devices (39%), followed by chemicals and chemical industry products (9%), base metals (9%), rubbers and plastics (5%), optical products and medical devices (3%) and transport items (3%). The remainder includes textiles and clothing, furniture, toys, wood, and more.

Israeli consumers are likely to be impacted in terms of imported clothing, appliances and electronics. China is the world’s largest manufacturer for many industries, so even products that are not made in China likely include some Chinese components.

Major Israeli fashion companies including Castro-Hoodies, Adika and Delta have stated that they expect their operations to be affected in the medium and long term. Castro stated that a large portion of its products are manufactured in China, and that their suppliers are not returning to routine operations due to the corona outbreak. Adika and Delta also said that their Chinese suppliers have halted operations.

Israel’s electronics importers and retailers are already reporting shortages of popular phone brands, vacuum cleaners, earbuds and speakers.

Some 80%-90% of consumer electronics are manufactured in China, and the companies have already stated that imports will be taking longer than planned.

“We placed a large order for vacuum cleaners in advance of Passover. This week we were informed that there’s no way to know when we’ll get them,” said Alon Resnick, VP-imports for the Bug electronics chain.

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