Shanghai lockdown still rippling through economy

SHANGHAI: Three months after Shanghai lifted an unprecedented Covid lockdown that lasted more than 60 days, businesses in China’s richest and biggest consumer market are still struggling with a sluggish recovery as lingering restrictions continue to deter people from going about their normal lives.

Though city-wide curbs on movement were scrapped on June 1, the ordeal hasn’t ended altogether for Shanghai’s 25 million residents.

China’s zero-Covid policy still requires localised lockdowns of neighbourhoods and apartment blocks whenever cases emerge, making that quick trip to a shop or a mall challenging.

Then there’s the need for regular testing to use public transportation or to enter indoor spaces such as office buildings and restaurants, not to mention quarantine for as long as 14 days at a government facility in some instances.

As a result, demand for everything from dining out to movies and tourism are still far below pre-lockdown levels, while some indicators show Shanghai is taking longer to recover than Hong Kong and Singapore after rules were eased in those cities.

Retail sales in the city dropped 4.3% in June from a year earlier and rose a meagre 0.3% in July, following an average 35% slump in the preceding three months starting March, when the outbreak began.

Wang Yihan, owner of two role-playing game venues in the city, is praying for “no more Covid comeback.”

“It’s just so difficult to get enough cashflow,” she said, adding about 60% of peers she knows have shut their businesses in recent months. “Even if we survive now, we can’t make it through if another lockdown comes.”

Unlike Singapore or Hong Kong – even though these cities also placed strict social distancing rules – Shanghai’s recovery hasn’t been as swift when it comes to post-easing retail sales.

For instance, Hong Kong experienced a wave of outbreaks earlier this year but started to gradually ease restrictions from late March by lifting flight bans, cutting quarantine days and allowing dine-in services.

Monthly retail sales returned to growth in April right after.

In Singapore, where curbs also caused frustration among residents and businesses last year, growth barely stalled and accelerated immediately after the island-nation announced significant easing in March.

Shopping malls in Shanghai are seeing a surge in vacancies that climbed to 7% in the second quarter, above a “warning line” of 5%, after zero-Covid lockdowns hammered consumer demand, China Real Estate Information Corp (CRIC) said late August, citing research of 20 major malls.

Worst-hit Super Brand Mall, which sits at the heart of Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial district, saw 34% of its shops shuttered, CRIC said.

The 2.7 million-sq-ft mall, just a few minutes away from the world’s second-tallest office tower, had been one of the most popular shopping centres since it opened more than two decades ago.

While people are starting to go out to have some fun, data still show Shanghai consumer spending CRIC which usually centres around products linked to socialising, like cosmetics and apparel – still has a long way to return to normal.

Food and daily necessities remain the key driver of the post-lockdown recovery in Shanghai.

Consumer staples including household care products such as tissue paper and laundry detergents, and in-home food and drinks are the most popular shopping categories, according to monthly consumer surveys compiled by consultancy Mintel by interviewing 100 Shanghai residents. — Bloomberg

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China , zero-Covid


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