BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) – Shanghai’s grinding coronavirus lockdown is slowly clogging China’s supply chains, as delays hit the world’s busiest container port where staff are tangled in a morass of Covid-19 controls.
Beijing has refused to tack away from its strict zero-Covid strategy that has protected its public health system through the pandemic but at a mounting economic cost.
That has forced many companies to halt production and slow new projects, factories told AFP, while those still operating are struggling with a shortage of truck drivers on top of onerous permit and Covid-19 testing requirements.
Shortages are starting to bite across China’s vast consumer economy, where online shopping platforms such as Taobao face delivery delays, especially of imported goods.
Covid-19 curbs in a number of cities have forced factories to find new suppliers.
But the impact may soon also be felt outside China if lockdowns persist.
Shanghai is the world’s number one container port, a spinal point in the global supply chain and a key gateway for foreign trade.
It handles around 17 per cent of China’s total port volume and shipped 47 million TEU – the standard measurement for cargo, meaning Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit – in 2021.
Factories can’t work from home
Chinese manufacturers say lockdowns, no matter how flexible or targeted, pile pressure on their business.
“Deliveries can neither leave nor enter,” he said.
Experts say the outbreak is currently nibbling at growth, but could soon take a big bite.
Nomura economists estimate that 23 cities accounting for 22 per cent of China’s gross domestic product have rolled out full or partial lockdowns.
“The costs of the zero-Covid strategy will rise significantly as its benefits decline, especially as exports are hit by the ongoing lockdowns,” Nomura chief China economist Lu Ting told AFP.
That will challenge Beijing’s 2022 GDP growth target of around 5.5 percent, he added.
Adapting to survive
For now, companies are adapting to try and handle the restrictions.
“Our main business activity is down by over 50 per cent,” said Mr Gao Yongkang, general manager of Qifeng Technology in eastern China’s Quanzhou city.
The company has been unable to transport textile materials to regular clients because of the Covid-19 curbs, and has instead pivoted to supplying the booming market for protective gear.
Meanwhile, those who cannot reach their original suppliers are scouring for new ones.
“The costs are a little higher and it’s slightly less efficient but we can fulfil our regular needs,” said diaper producer New Yifa Group's deputy general manager Shen Shengyuan.
In a nod to struggling industries, Premier Li Keqiang this week announced a temporary deferment of old-age insurance premiums for sectors such as catering, retail and civil aviation.
Shanghai on Friday announced a record 21,000 new cases and a third consecutive day of Covid-19 testing as a lockdown of its 26 million people showed no sign of easing.