Covid – 19: The state of play16 June 2020
COVID – 19: The state of play.
In late 2019 there were murmurings of a new SARS type virus originating in Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province in central China. In early 2020 Wuhan was placed under a near total ‘lockdown’ – a word that most of the world was unfamiliar with at the time but would soon become part of everyday vocabulary. As China struggled to keep a lid on the virus the world looked on. There had been viruses originating in Asia more than once since the turn of the century and their spread had always been largely contained, with only a smattering of cases hitting the rest of the world. Why would this one be any different? As warnings from the press and the WHO amplified the Western world went about business largely as normal. On 20th January 2020, the WHO declared COVID–19 a public health emergency of international concern and on 11th March a pandemic was declared – the first since swine flu in 2009, a virus which although global had hit Asia hardest.
This time was to be different. On 9th, March the Italian government announced an immediate nationwide lockdown, superseding more local lockdowns as the virus tore through the country and the number of cases and deaths sadly mounted. This would be followed in the coming weeks by lockdowns of various severity across Europe, the United States and the world. By late March / early April the world as we knew it had come to a standstill. All but non-essential travel was strongly advised against or forbidden, public gatherings banned, and museums, galleries and concert halls shuttered. In the space of about ten days almost all our facilities went from being extremely busy to having little to no work.
As we view the lay of the land in early June the virus in Europe and North America seems to be slowly being brought under control and lockdowns are gradually being eased. The early green shoots of a slow recovery can finally be seen.
Following local government guidance has been the keystone to our response globally. Paris was the first of our facilities to close down – completely, as mandated by the French government, from 17th March. We were able to reply to estimates and questions via email, but nothing more until the government allowed us to re-open on 11th May and we can now once again service local deliveries, installations, imports and exports. With our logistical support, French galleries and auction houses have partially reopened with social distancing measures in place.
In California we maintained a skeleton staff at both our facilities (San Francisco and Los Angeles) throughout the entire lockdown period and are gradually increasing the frequency of services as demand and restrictions allow. Our viewing rooms have proven especially popular as a location where clients can view stock whilst galleries are closed and due to their size, there are no issues with maintaining social distancing requirements. In New York our two viewing rooms have been so popular among Gallery and Auction House clients that we are planning to open a third in the very near future.
In California, as in all our facilities have instigated a COVID–19 protocol to protect both our staff and clients based on guidelines we have received from government. A summary of these measures can be found below:
- All technicians are issued with personal hand sanitizer, wipes, clean masks and nitrile gloves.
- Each Technician will wear a clean mask, and gloves for each project, once completed the Technicians will safely dispose of those items and sanitize his/her hands.
- For technicians that have multiple jobs in a day, the above will occur for each job.
- Tools and supplies will be wiped down after every job if they enter the worksite.
- Truck door handles, locks and steering wheel will be wiped before every use.
- At the end of the day a thorough cleaning of our fleet is performed.
- Staff members have been told that they are not to report to work if they feel they have any type of illness and should self-isolate until they are able to have a COVID – 19 test. If the test is positive, they must continue to self-isolate for the fourteen-day period. If negative they can return to work.
In Florida we worked with a skeleton staff from 24th March, gradually bringing staff back from 13th April as demand started to increase and returning to a full complement of staff as of 1st June. We have also been able to complete our latest expansion project in West Palm Beach. The enlarged facility will give us a total of 31,000 square feet in our main building, boasting new state of the art offices alongside a 600 square foot viewing room with an impressive 20-foot-high ceiling. Due to the impact of the virus this has been completed ever so slightly later than originally planned, but we were able to continue construction whilst adhering to social distancing measures and are ready to hit the ground running with this exciting new facility.
New York City, which has been the epicentre of the virus in the US, started slowly relaxing lockdown restrictions on 8th June. The art community is still holding its breath; most Auction Houses aim to reopen from mid to late June, whilst many Art Galleries are plan to re-open in early September. For institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art , it will be mid-August. As they re-open we are confident of a quick rebound in demand.
Health and safety is of paramount importance to us and we have taken these steps to protect staff and clients in our offices, warehouses, vehicles and delivery locations.
The lockdown in New York was so complete that even though we have been able to remain open with a skeleton staff there is now a back log of work and projects that requires comprehensive planning to work through. We are working closely with clients in order to alleviate as much of the pressure as we can at the present time. We expect museums and corporate clients to come back at a much slower pace as it will take longer for them to adjust to the new normal. As always, safety is key. We relaunched our shuttle services across the USA on June 1st and expect to run a full schedule through the years end, details of which can be found on our website.
Back in Europe we relaunched our European groupage services on 8th June and will be offering a slightly reduced service that will be reassessed depending on demand. London, like New York and Paris, has been hit especially hard by this pandemic and we worked with a skeleton staff from 23rd March when lockdown was announced. As London and the rest of the UK gradually opens up it is important that we remain vigilant to the threat that the virus still poses. The UK government’s Export Control Unit, which administers export licenses for transport out of the UK, closed for lockdown and reopened on 27th May. Consequently, it is working through a huge backlog meaning that any shipments requiring a license can expect a delay for the foreseeable future.
UK airfreight rates as elsewhere remain very high due to the lack of available space and many clients are opting to hold off on shipments until they come down. We predict this to happen as airfreight capacity comes in over the coming months.
Like all businesses and individuals this pandemic has had a fundamental impact on our operations. It was the joker in the pack that was impossible to prepare for. Never in our history has there been such a complete shutdown of life and restriction to our usual freedoms. As we move gradually towards a new normal, we feel confident that we are well positioned to face what lies ahead. We will continue to constantly update our procedures based on the evolving guidelines from local governments and as always, our commitment to excellence and attention to detail will remain second to none.