Summary of The Modern Supply Chain Is Snapping

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If you can’t find your favorite shampoo or toothpaste, blame the modern supply chain. The closing of major Chinese manufacturing sites for only a few weeks during the coronavirus outbreak laid bare how much the availability of products depends on just-in-time deliveries from the world’s manufacturing powerhouses in Asia. Writing for The Atlantic, Lizzie O’Leary explains pandemic-related weaknesses in the global supply chain and their consequences.

About the Author

Lizzie O’Leary is a writer based in New York City. 


As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, US health systems are turning to the government to address shortages in health-care supplies.

In February 2020, due to a contamination issue unrelated to the coronavirus, the Medical University of South Carolina’s health system did not receive surgical gowns it had ordered from a Chinese manufacturer. As the coronavirus began to spread and demand for protective equipment surged, the health system struggled to find a supplier to fill the gap.

Hospitals in the United States usually order supplies in bulk through a group purchasing organization (GPO). Such GPOs – which “aren’t nimble” – can’t quickly find substitute vendors for their huge bulk orders. Vendors, in turn, operate with a narrow profit margin, so they don’t retain large backup inventories. Consequently, the South Carolina health system had to turn to the federal government for help. The national government has the power to invoke the Defense Production Act, which authorizes it to ramp up manufacturing and to tap the country’s strategic reserve of health-care supplies.

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