Beijing — Pandemic-hit Shanghai, China’s financial hub, unveiled more post-lockdown plans on Thursday as it moves towards a return to normalcy, but a countrywide economic recovery is still a distance away, heightening a sense of urgency for more support.
The city of 25-million people, which is set to officially emerge from its lockdown on June 1, has been cautiously easing Covid-19 curbs, allowing more of its population to venture out and putting more vehicles back onto its once busy streets.
Officials in the city said on Thursday that pupils in junior and senior high school can return to in-person classes from June 6, after word earlier in the week that shopping malls and department stores will be allowed to reopen, though in batches, from June 1.
Shanghai reported 338 new locally transmitted infections for May 25, the lowest since mid-March and a far cry from the tens of thousands seen at the peak of its outbreak in April.
China’s biggest city by economic output has suffered due to the lockdown imposed in early April. Other cities not under lockdown but still hit by stringent Covid-19 measures, including the capital Beijing, have also struggled to keep their local economies upright.
Offering a grim view of the world’s second-biggest economy, premier Li Keqiang said on Wednesday its difficulties in some aspects were even bigger than in 2020, when China was first hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Many private sector economists expect GDP to contract in April-June from a year earlier versus the first quarter’s 4.8% growth.
China will strive to achieve “reasonable” GDP growth in the second quarter, Li told thousands of government officials across the country in an online conference.
“The unusual meeting caps an increasingly urgent series of official pronouncements in recent days attempting to resolve the economic disruption caused by the wave of Covid-19 lockdowns,” research group Gavekal Dragonomics wrote in a note on Thursday.
“The urgent high-level focus on stabilising growth opens the door for more aggressive stimulus measures to be deployed in coming weeks.”
Boosting the economy
The central bank said on Thursday it would promote more credit for smaller firms and urged financial institutions to prioritise lending to central and western regions, as well as areas and sectors hammered by Covid-19 outbreaks.
The finance ministry also said on Thursday it would offer subsidies to Chinese airlines from May 21 to July 20 to help them weather the coronavirus-induced downturn and higher oil prices.
Domestic air traffic has plummeted because of lockdowns in Shanghai and surrounding cities. Shanghai-based China Eastern said passenger numbers sank 90.7% in April from a year earlier.
Overall air passenger traffic in April plunged nearly 85% year on year, and stood at barely 15% of its pre-Covid level in 2019, China’s aviation regulator said on Thursday.
Offering a glimmer of hope, the China Passenger Car Association said on Thursday that national vehicle sales rose 34% in the first three weeks of May compared with the corresponding period in April.
But, with measures to control Covid-19 outbreaks depressing incomes, the sales volume was still 16% lower than 12 months earlier, the industry association cautioned.
Road freight transportation and express delivery from distribution centres last week were both stronger than a month earlier but still down sharply on the year, Nomura Global Economics said.
“As long as China does not relax its Covid policy, any other policy measures are of little value right now,” said an automotive fastener factory owner surnamed Zheng in the eastern province of Zhejiang.
“Everybody has little confidence or enthusiasm to invest now.”
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