Shutdowns in China spread as COVID infections rise

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BEIJING (AP) — The virus checks that have shuttered some of China’s biggest cities and fueled public irritation are spreading as infections rise, hurting a weak economy and prompting warnings of possible global shockwaves .

Shanghai is easing rules that confined most of its 25 million people to their homes after complaints they were struggling to eat. But most of his businesses are still closed. Access to Guangzhou, an industrial hub of 19 million people near Hong Kong, was suspended this week. Other cities are cutting off access or closing factories and schools.

Spring planting by Chinese farmers who feed 1.4 billion people could be disrupted, Nomura economists warned on Thursday. This could boost demand for imported wheat and other foodstuffs, pushing up already high world prices.

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The closures are an embarrassment to the ruling Communist Party and a setback to official efforts to support sluggish growth in the world’s second-largest economy. They come during a sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and grant himself a third five-year term as head.

Beijing has promised to reduce the human and economic cost of its “zero-COVID” strategy, but Xi on Wednesday ruled out joining the United States and other governments that are dropping restrictions and trying to live with the virus.

“The prevention and control work cannot be relaxed,” Xi said, according to the official Xinhua news agency. “Perseverance is victory.”

The risk of China falling into recession is increasing, Nomura’s Ting Lu, Jing Wang and Harrison Zhang warned in a report.

“The logistics crisis is getting worse,” they said. “Markets should also worry about the delay in spring planting of cereals in China.”

The government reported 29,411 new cases on Thursday, all but 3,020 without symptoms. Shanghai accounted for 95% of that total, or 27,719 cases. All but 2,573 had no symptoms.

A health official warned on Wednesday that Shanghai does not have the virus under control despite easing restrictions.

Some 6.6 million people have been allowed to leave their homes in areas that have seen no new cases for at least a week. But at least 15 million other people are still not allowed to go outside.

Most people obeyed despite grumblings about lack of food, medicine and access to elderly relatives in need of help. But videos on popular social media service Sina Weibo show punches being exchanged with police.

Grape Chen, a data analyst in Shanghai, said she was panicking about getting medicine for her father, who is recovering from a stroke. She called the police after receiving no response from an official hotline, but was told quarantine rules prohibited officers from helping.

“We are ready to cooperate with the country,” Chen said. “But we also hope that our lives can be respected.”

The city government of Suzhou, a hub of smartphone manufacturing and other high-tech industries west of Shanghai, has told its 18 million residents to stay at home as much as possible.

Taiyuan, a working-class city of 4 million in central China, has suspended intercity bus service, according to China’s official news service. Ningde in the southeast banned residents from leaving.

A restaurant cook in Taiyuan said his family had been confined to their apartment compound since April 3 after cases were discovered in nearby compounds.

“Our lives will be seriously affected if the restrictions last for a long time,” said the cook, who would only give his last name, Chen.

“My wife and I earn nothing,” Chen said. “We have three dependent children.

According to Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm, all but 13 of China’s 100 largest cities by economic output are under some form of restrictions.

“The intensity is increasing,” Gavekal said in a report this week.

The volume of cargo handled by the port of Shanghai, the busiest in the world, fell by 40%, according to an estimate by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. Automakers have suspended production due to disruptions in supply deliveries.

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Restrictions on regions that produce smartphones, consumer electronics and other goods around the world prompt forecasters to cut expectations for this year’s economic growth to just 5%, down sharply from the expansion up 8.1% from last year.

The ruling party’s target is 5.5%. Growth fell to 4% year on year in the final quarter of 2021 after tighter official debt controls triggered a slump in home sales and construction, industries that support millions of jobs.

Even before the latest shutdowns, the ruling party was promising tax refunds and other aid to entrepreneurs who generate wealth and jobs.

Premier Li Keqiang, No. 2 and a top economic official, this week called for a “faster deployment” of aid to businesses facing a “key moment for their survival”, China News Service reported.

Under a strategy called “dynamic cleaning,” authorities are trying to use more targeted measures to isolate neighborhoods rather than entire cities with larger populations than some countries. But some local leaders are imposing more extensive controls.

Shanghai leaders have been criticized for trying to minimize economic damage by ordering testing, but no stopping once cases were discovered last month. A citywide shutdown was ordered with just hours warning after the number of cases soared.

This contrasts with Shenzhen, a technology and financial hub of 17.5 million people near Hong Kong which shut the city down on March 13 after an outbreak and ordered mass testing. It reopened a week later and business was back to normal.

Guangzhou imitated Shenzhen. Most access to the city of 19 million people was suspended on Monday and mass testing was ordered after 27 infections were found.

Li Guanyu, a 31-year-old woman in Guangzhou, said residents could only leave her apartment once every two days to buy food, but shops were well stocked.

“It happened a bit suddenly,” Li said. “Maybe the situation in Shanghai is so bad that Guangzhou started mass testing and lockdowns as soon as cases were found.”

AP researchers Yu Bing in Beijing and Chen Si in Shanghai and video producer Olivia Zhang in Beijing contributed.

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