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Scenes in major Beijing crematorium tell a different story from official Covid death numbers (December 2022)
03:15 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

China’s economy is under severe strain as a wave of Covid cases sweeps across the country.

Since the world’s second largest economy drastically eased its Covid restrictions earlier this month, there has been no clear data on the extent of the virus’ spread on the national level. But several cities and provinces have said they were seeing tens of thousands of new cases per day.

The rapid spread of infection has driven many people indoors and emptied shops and restaurants. Factories and companies are also forced to shut down or cut production because of more workers getting sick.

“The number of people on the streets has dropped off sharply from already subdued levels across the country,” said analysts from Capital Economics in a research note last week. “That will be affecting demand.”

The Chinese economy was already struggling when Beijing abruptly pivoted from its stringent zero-Covid policy. Retail sales had contracted in November because of widespread lockdowns, and unemployment had surged to the highest level in six months.

Top leaders have signaled recently that they would shift focus back to growth next year and have bet on the relaxation of pandemic restrictions to lift the economy.

People walk past closed stores at a shopping mall amid the COVID-19 outbreak, ahead of the Christmas holiday, in Shanghai, China December 23, 2022.

But statistics don’t look promising.

Car and home sales slumped in the first few weeks of December. Auto manufacturers sold 946,000 vehicles from December 1 to December 18, down 15% from the same period last year, according to most recent statistics from the China Passenger Car Association. Last week, home sales by floor area plunged 44% in the 30 biggest cities from the same week last year, according to Chinese financial data provider Wind. In tier-one cities like Beijing and Shanghai, home sales plummeted 53% last week from a year ago.

People’s movements have also fallen sharply.

Since the middle of this month, the number of subway trips was down about 60% in major cities from the same period a year ago, according to Wind data.

Nationwide, truck cargo volumes and delivery orders both shrank in the past week, according to statistics from the transportation ministry and the postal service regulator.

Factories have also cut back production. Key industries like cement and chemical fibers have all reported lower utilization rates of their existing production capacity.

BYD, the country’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer, said it had to slash production by 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles per day as more workers are unable to work.