Covid-19 shutdowns and calls for support 2 Apr 2020

Patrick Reynolds for TunnelTalk

As the number of coronavirus hospitalisations rise, so too does the impact and closing down of the construction industry in many countries. In the UK, the list of project sites suspended now includes early works on the HS2 high-speed rail link and the Woodsmith potash mine development while works on sections of the Phase 2 London cable tunnels continue under enhanced health and safety measures.

Tideway project sites in London closed down to all but essential operations
Tideway project sites in London closed down to all but essential operations

To ensure a controlled shutdown of construction sites, the UK Construction Leadership Council issued advice to help construction companies and clients achieve temporary suspension of work sites. The guidance notes that the UK Government has not called for all construction sites to close and that each site is responsible for its own risk assessment.

With the Government demanding effective lockdown and isolation to defeat the contagion, seeing construction workers commuting and continuing to work has caused confusion and worries over virus spreading risks. All are supportive, however, of efforts by construction workers to establish emergency hospitals in vast conference centres around the UK.

In issuing its guidance and as contractors start laying off workers and cutting salaries, the CLC called on the UK Government to boost cashflow for the construction industry by releasing contract retention monies.

Meanwhile the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) called for engineering support to the health service efforts in the UK and for people to train to operate, maintain and service medical equipment and provide support at the emergency hospitals being established. Computer data science modellers are also being called for to help in contagion planning efforts.

Guidance for controlled shutdown of construction sites
Guidance for controlled shutdown of construction sites
Download the pdf

An urgent call went out also for all construction companies that are suspending job sites to donate PPE equipment, especially face masks and disposable gloves and overalls, to hospitals and health care workers to meet a severe shortage of such equipment globally.

In Europe, works have been suspended on many projects, although partial restarts are underway in Austria.

France has seen suspension of large-scale tunnelling activities on the Paris Metro while in Italy, there is widespread tunnel works suspension, including a halt of excavations on the Milan Metro, on the Milan-Genoa high-speed rail project and on the Brenner and Lyon-Turin base railway tunnel projects.

In Denmark, official celebration of the opening of the new Nordhavn extension of the Copenhagen Line 4 Metro is not possible as it is not being used due to the virus.

In Austria, Strabag CEO Thomas Birtel said: “We will look at each of our 1,000 sites in Austria to see how the health precautions and distancing limits between workers can be kept.”

Copenhagen Metro Line 4 Nordhavn extension finished but awaiting its grand opening
Copenhagen Metro Line 4 Nordhavn extension finished but awaiting its grand opening

Sudden and dramatic lockdown in India has works on many sites suspended or sharply reduced. These include at the Vishnugad Pipalkoti hydro project where its headrace TBM was just getting started. Works are suspended also on the Tapovan Vishnugad hydro project, and on the Mumbai Metro where the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation is rolling out efforts to safeguard workers.

For TBM manufacturers, Terratec told TunnelTalk its offices in Hong Kong and Japan remain open, and factories continue in production with strict health monitoring and hygiene measures imposed. Sales and Marketing manager Bruce Matheson said: “We are doing our best to provide our customers with service, parts and deliveries while keeping the health and safety of our customers and personnel the utmost priority.”

Herrenknecht told TunnelTalk: “As a globally operating company with three manufacturing and assembly locations as well as three additional sales and service locations in China, we have been dealing with preventive measures in connection with the coronavirus since January 2020. Our engineers are available to provide the best possible support.” CEO and founder, Martin Herrenknecht, said in the statement that: “Mutual trust and unshakeable stamina have always driven us forward together. Our customers and partners can continue to rely on our full commitment. I am confident that our international family of passionate tunnelling and mining pioneers will emerge even stronger after the global coronavirus crisis.”


Continuing COVID-19 impact 26 Mar 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

Just a week on and the situation in the battle to defeat the coronavirus around the world has taken a new and more dramatic turn. Countries are in Government ordered stay at home directives and subject to law enforcement. This includes for the 1.3 billion population of India which is beginning to feel the impact of rising numbers of infected individuals.

Current spread of the virus on a global scale <br>(Dated 26 Mar 2020)
Current spread of the virus on a global scale
(Dated 26 Mar 2020)

Projects are being closed down, except for critical staff for safety and minimum safe-mode operations, and all workers, except vital health workers, food suppliers, and emergency services personnel, are to stay at home, not venturing out unless absolutely necessary and for brief periods of exercise.

Cancellation of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo from July/August for a reschedule in 2021 has been the most telling event impact with the schedule for most others during the rest of 2020 either in doubt or already cancelled. For industry events, the World Tunnel Congress in Kuala Lumpur has been postponed from May to September 2020 and the ACUUS meeting in Helsinki in September 2020 has been moved to 2-4 February 2021. In South Africa, the Africa Rail congress at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg has been postponed optimistically from 30 June - 1 July 2020 to 25-25 August 2020.

In the UK it has been confirmed that the BTS meetings at the ICE in London are suspended and the Annual BTS Gala Dinner scheduled for 8 May has been cancelled for rearrangement at a later date.

Face masks the norm rather than the exception, but crowding now banned by law
Face masks the norm rather than the exception, but crowding now banned by law

As life as normal withdraws to within the four walls of homes, the consequences are also being felt. Most immediately has been the surge in internet usage as office meetings and school classes move to internet and video streaming alternatives. Local broadband services have slowed as they become overloaded. There are tips to be found on the web for conserving broadband width, and Netflix, among other internet businesses, have stopped high resolution streaming. An indication of the dependence now on worldwide internet connectivity, a Festival of BIM & Digital Construction webinar free to attend between 14-30 April 2020, is being promoted as the largest ever internet connected virtual event.

On the lighter side, there are many providing tips on how to adjust to home working and the reporting by TV journalists and their guests from their home offices are giving viewers a glimpse into their homes and home offices.

On a more serious note is the welfare of workers and their families as businesses close and salaries are suspended. Financial aid packages of extraordinary proportion are being agreed by Governments to stimulate economies and provide soft landings for those in most need.

Exponential spread of the infection from one infected person
Exponential spread of the infection from one infected person

The one cause for being positive is that the spread of infection in China, where first signs of the illness were recorded, is slowing down and some sectors of the economy are returning cautiously to operation. Elsewhere in the world, efforts to isolate and practice social distancing are proving effective in slowing the exponential nature of the spread of infection with the saving of just one person contracting the virus saving several layers of others.

The other positive note is the overwhelming sense of people pulling together to help and support each other – a call for volunteers to help health, emergency and support organisations registering more than 400,000 in the first day – with only the few flouting directives and taking advantage of the situation for ill-gotten gains.

The prediction for all is that this is a crisis that will take time to be resolved and the wish for all is to stay safe and to look after yourself in order to help others.



Unprecedented times 19 Mar 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

Around the world the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is impacting life as we knew it just days ago.

Putting aside the medical need for these unprecedented times, the social impact has created disruption and significant change to business plans for the remainder of 2020.

Signs of the times: Empty streets, empty meeting rooms

Already reported is cancellation of the WTC World Tunnel Congress 2020 and its 46th General Assembly of the ITA (International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association) in Kuala Lumpur in May and its reschedule for September 2020. The ACUUS conference in Helsinki in September has also been cancelled and rearranged for February 2021.

For offices around the world, engineers and staff are being advised to work from home where possible and others have positively closed offices for the duration.

At universities and colleges, students are at home and participating instead in video link classes and online tutorials.

For the many tunnelling and underground excavation projects around the world, project job sites are closed to all but essential workers and managers and the same applies to associated factories and production facilities. For the moment government guidance in most countries falls short of closing project job sites and factories with the advice to send workers with coughs, cold or fevers home and for anyone with those symptoms to stay at home and to isolate.

Postponement to September also crowds an already busy month of industry events including AFTES 2020 in Paris, the TAC conference in Canada, ACUUS 2020 in Finland and InnoTrans in Germany. Ability to attend two or three events in one month will be expensive both in time and money for delegates and exhibitors.

London Underground running limited services
London Underground running limited services

A statement from the Institution of Civil Engineers in London has also confirmed cancellation of all meetings and events at the ICE in Great George Street in London until 1 May 2020, including the scheduled monthly BTS meeting on Thursday 16 April. Provisions for live streaming meetings and conducting video link meetings are being developed for launch as soon as available.

For the moment some other industry meetings and events remain on schedule for the coming months with optimism that all will normalise for them to go ahead as planned. Contingency arrangements and the provision for registration and booking refunds are being examined. The processes regarding the liability for cancelling events and the terms of any insurance coverage in place are also being reviewed in detail.

Similar to most airports, airlines, railway stations and train services, metro systems around the world have closed underground stations and are running limited services.

The advice to all is to stay at home and check before venturing to attend any meeting or event, office or business place.

As news within the international industry becomes available, TunnelTalk will update the information. Thank you for sharing the actuality of the impact of these times in your country and for the projects, factories and offices that you work for.


WTC2020 postponed to September 2020 26 Feb 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

It is official. A World Tunnel Congress in May for 2020 is cancelled. Instead the WTC congress for 2020 will be postponed to 11-17 September 2020 at the same venue and in the same host city - at the KLCC Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

WTC2020 postponed from May to September 20
WTC2020 postponed from May to September 20

The change is confirmed as being caused by the impact and spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in Asia and now to other parts of the world.

In a joint statement from the ITA and the Malaysian Tunnelling Technical Group of the IEM of ITA Member Nation Malysia, WTC2020 Organizing Committee Chair Dr Teik Aun Ooi, and ITA Executive Director Olivier Vion, explained that the health and safety of travelling delegates and exhibitors is the “utmost importance” - as is the success of each WTC event. The statement reads: “It is not possible at the moment to predict the evolution of this virus and many people could have been forced not to participate. For the time being the World Health Organization recommends limiting mass gatherings.”

The statement also acknowledges that for many this change is not ideal and that if required, documents can be made available for changing flight and hotel bookings.

The change is disruptive on several accounts.

Many have registered and paid for the congress and may not be able to attend in September; many have booked non-refundable flights and hotel rooms that may not be transferrable to new dates; and the postponement is rescheduled on the assumption that all will have returned to normal by September.

Postponement to September also crowds an already busy month of industry events including AFTES 2020 in Paris, the TAC conference in Canada, ACUUS 2020 in Finland and InnoTrans in Germany. Ability to attend two or three events in one month will be expensive both in time and money for delegates and exhibitors.

ITA and IEM announce postponement of WTC2020
ITA and IEM announce postponement of WTC2020

The vulnerability of international events is not unknown and disruption has been caused in the past. Notably in 2010 when the volcano in Iceland in May caused the grounding of all flights for several days and had an operating impact on bauma, the major international construction equipment trade show held every second year in Munich, Germany. The event went ahead as there was no time available to cancel or reschedule but exhibition space was left with the crates of materials on the booths with no one to unpack them and manage the stands and delegate numbers were substantially down with trains and highways overcrowded and congested and visitors and participants made travel alternatives to flying.

Had the WTC gone ahead in May, exhibitors and delegates choosing not to travel and attend would have undermined the success of the event and there would have been criticism that the event was not cancelled or postponed.

For the moment the 2020 NAT North American Tunneling conference in Nashville in early June is going ahead and on a broader much higher impact scale, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, from 24 July to 9 August remains a fixture.

In its statement, the ITA and WTC Organising Committee concluded that postponement “is the best solution to be able to organize this major event for the entire tunnelling industry”.

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