Moving the Mail: A tribute to the world’s post
By Bishar A. Hussein, Director General, Universal Postal Union
"Beginning just as the world celebrated the New Year, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our globalized lives. The rapid spread of the virus also gave the international postal network perhaps its severest test in its long and storied history.
Since the beginning, I have watched the deadly virus fan out from Asia, spread to Europe and then move further afield to the Americas and Australasia. It has caused death, pain and tragedy wherever it has gone.
For the international postal sector, it has been nothing short of catastrophic. Our postal world is a gigantic supply chain reliant on airplanes being kept in the air. As the flights stopped, so did the mail. From Berne, and through the messages we receive from postal operators, I watched the lights slowly dim on one of the world’s biggest logistical infrastructures.
While responses have differed, postal operators have sought to continue their operations, while facing lockdowns, flight suspensions, states of emergencies introduced by governments, the health threat to staff and customers alike, and suspensions of inbound mail.
The virus finally threatened the Universal Postal Union (UPU). In March, I regretfully shuttered the Universal Postal Union’s headquarters and like everyone else on this planet, I now practice the social distancing necessary for my safety and the safety of others."
Threefold approach to keep the mail moving
"Closing the UPU headquarters to all but essential staff was not the end, however, it was only the beginning. Operations have not been closed; instead, we have accelerated their delivery. Due to the pandemic’s spread, we are continuing our traditional activities, but we have also narrowed our efforts against COVID-19 to a single goal: keeping the mail moving.
Our approach has been threefold: analysis, partnerships and innovation. First, we focused on understanding the situation through an in-depth analysis of the data that postal operators offer. In an early review, we found that, from 23 January to 23 March, international mail fell by 10,000 tons. UPU has also created a specific area on its website (http://www.upu.int/en/activities/quality-of-service/communication-from-member-countries-on-covid-19.html) for updates on actions and health strategies based on the guidance of the World Health Organization and governments.
Second, we activated our numerous partnerships around the world. It is a truism that you should never forget your friends in an international crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. We are lucky at UPU, our friends are also our experienced partners in helping to keep the mail flowing. Very early on, we created an Operation Continuity Unit and this group of experienced UPU experts and officials began to deliver our fight back against the virus.
We worked closely with our partners at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to ask governments to fast track permits allowing cargo carriers to take over withdrawn passenger operations in key hubs. IATA also recommends removing restrictions, such as curfews, overflight charges and parking fees. With the World Customs Organization, we have called on customs authorities, where possible, to relax rules in order to enable the mail to move.
Third, we have used our innovation and creativity to help postal operators. One example is the world’s first mail-only train delivering mail between China and Europe. This was achieved through the knowledge and experience of our Rail Contact Committee. The regular trains are helping to clear up a backlog of around 2,000 tons of mail destined for Europe currently in China. We are expanding these types of solutions and will shortly begin to focus on shipping to assist postal operators.
Health and safety have also been an important element of UPU’s response. Early on, UPU issued a joint statement with UNI-Global Union on the importance of ensuring the health and safety of postal workers. UPU has issued a guidebook written by China Post on their valuable experience of maintaining the health and safety of employees and customers. We entered into a partnership with United Nations Office for Project Services to deliver essential personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, to least developed countries. All of this is designed to help keep postal workers safe.
Our work continues. I am only too aware, however, that it is the more than 5 million postal staff who deserve the most praise. They are the true heroes. Seen as essential personnel in many countries, postal workers have continued to courageously deliver the mail. Every day they are in danger in order to help keep the mail moving. Collectively we owe them a debt of gratitude that I believe can never be repaid. Postal workers everywhere, I salute you."