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Closures spread in China as coronavirus infections rise


Anti-coronavirus controls that have shuttered some of China’s biggest cities and fueled public frustration are spreading as infections rise, hurting a weak economy and sparking 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.

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

People wearing face masks walk near flowering trees in a Beijing park (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

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 vowed to reduce the human and economic cost of its “zero-Covid” strategy, but on Wednesday Xi ruled out joining the United States and other governments in dropping restrictions and trying to live with the virus.

“The work of prevention and control cannot be relaxed,” he 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.

Medical worker conducts Covid tests for Shanghai residents
A medical worker conducts Covid tests for Shanghai residents (Chen Si/AP)

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 others still do not have the right to go out.

Most people obeyed despite grumblings about shortages of food, medicine and access to elderly relatives in need of help. But videos on the popular social media service Sina Weibo show the exchange of blows with the police.

Grape Chen, a data analyst in Shanghai, said she was worried 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 willing to cooperate with the country,” Ms. 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 four million in central China, has suspended intercity bus services, according to the official China News Service. Ningde in the southeast banned residents from leaving.

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,” he 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 disruption in supply deliveries.

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