China spending and employment hit by Shanghai lockdown
China’s consumer spending fell and unemployment rose last month as Covid lockdowns confined millions of people to their homes, official figures show.
Joblessness reached the highest level since the early part of the pandemic.
However, overall the country’s economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the first three months of this year.
A surge in infections has triggered lockdowns in several major cities – including the financial, manufacturing and shipping hub of Shanghai.
Retail sales fell by 3.5% in March compared to a year earlier, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said. That was the first decline since July 2020.
For the same period unemployment rose to 5.8%, the highest level since May 2020.
The figures highlight the increased risk of a sharp slowdown in the coming months as major lockdowns and the war in Ukraine take their toll on the world’s second largest economy.
As a whole, China’s economy grew at a better-than-expected rate in the first three months of the year.
Gross domestic product (GDP), a key economic indicator, expanded by 4.8% compared to a year earlier, beating analysts’ forecasts.
However, that is below Beijing’s goal of growing its economy by 5.5% this year.
Tommy Xie, head of Greater China research at OCBC Bank, said that the lockdowns, which began in the second half of March, were so far having a “limited” impact but he expects the restrictions to be a significant drag on economic growth this month.
“[China] is likely to feel the full-blown impact from the lockdown,” Mr Xie told the BBC. “The impact in April is likely to deepen given the longer-than-expected lockdowns in Shanghai and spillover to other parts of China.”
On Friday, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said it would help more than 600 companies in Shanghai to restart operations. They included firms in the computer chip, car making and medical industries.
The regulator said it has sent a team to the city “to ensure the supply of medical supplies and promote key industries”.
Manufacturers, including Pegatron a major producer of Apple’s iPhone, have halted operations in Shanghai because of the lockdown.
Richard Yu, an executive at Chinese technology giant Huawei, last week warned that technology, industrial and automobile supply chains “will come to a complete halt” if the city did not resume production by next month.
“That will pose severe consequences and massive losses for the whole industry,” Mr Yu said in a WeChat post on Friday.
Earlier on Monday, Chinese authorities reported the deaths of three people from Covid in Shanghai, which was locked down in late March.
The three people were aged between 89 and 91, had several underlying illnesses, and were unvaccinated, authorities said.
Meanwhile, the strict lockdown of the Shanghai has stoked anger among some of the city’s residents.
In recent weeks people have taken to social media to complain about the restrictions and the lack of food supplies, while video footage has shown confrontations between police and residents.