China’s virus-hit cities start to restore production

A woman wearing a protective mask to help stop the spread of coronavirus walks at an empty shopping mall in the Sanlitun area in Beijing. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 February 2020

China’s virus-hit cities start to restore production

  • Beijing is conscious of striking a balance between stamping out the epidemic which has infected more than 70,000 people and killed over 2,000 people

BEIJING: Big manufacturing hubs on the Chinese coast are starting to loosen curbs on the movement of people and traffic while local governments prod factories to restart production, following weeks of stoppages due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Beijing is conscious of striking a balance between stamping out the epidemic which has infected more than 70,000 people and killed over 2,000 people, and shielding the already weakened economy from more damage.

The city of Foshan, a large manufacturer of electronics and household appliances in southern Guangdong province, said late on Tuesday that businesses no longer need to seek prior approval before resuming operations and they need not require returning workers to show proof of their health.

On Monday, the nearby city of Zhongshan similarly lowered such administrative barriers.

In eastern Zhejiang province over the weekend, the cities of Hangzhou and Ningbo also pared back the approval process for companies looking to restart.

“Macro and micro data suggest production activities are resuming at a slow pace in China, reaching 60-80 percent of normal levels by end-Feb and normalizing only by mid-to-late March,” Morgan Stanley wrote in a research noted.

“If the spread of the virus is not contained within the next two weeks, the disruption to production could extend into the second quarter.”

Analysts polled by Reuters expect China’s economic growth could slow to 4.5 percent in the first quarter from 6 percent in the previous quarter, but some recently downgraded forecasts again into the 3-4 percent range, citing delays in resuming production.

Some cities in Guangdong and Zhejiang this week organized buses and trains to ferry workers back from their hometowns.

The city of Taizhou, in Zhejiang, even arranged for several planes to pick up migrant workers from Chongqing, Guiyang, Chengdu, Kunming and Xian, with the local government of Taizhou footing a third of the bill.

The outbreak has also chilled consumer demand and hammered the services sector, with restaurants, hotels, cinemas and travel agents among the segments most visibly hit.

China’s auto market is likely to see sales slide over 10 percent in the first half of 2020 because of the epidemic.

In a bid to revive consumption, Foshan announced stimulus measures for its auto market, the first city in China to do so amid the outbreak.

The city government will offer subsidies of 2,000 yuan ($285) for purchases of new cars and 3,000 yuan for replacement of existing cars, according to a document published on Feb. 3 on its website.


HSBC to axe 82 branches in UK, cut services in others

Updated 19 January 2021

HSBC to axe 82 branches in UK, cut services in others

  • The lender said it would be left with 511 branches in the UK following the closures

LONDON: HSBC said on Tuesday it planned to axe 82 branches in Britain this year after a drop in footfall across its retail network and a surge in digital banking.
The lender said it would be left with 511 branches in the UK following the closures, with many of the remaining branches set to be refurbished with some providing fewer services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dented bank finances, putting pressure on lenders to cut costs, while more customers have opted to bank online as people have been encouraged to stay at home to combat the spread of the virus.
HSBC said it had begun trialing different branch formats and decided to provide fewer full-service branches focused in large cities and towns, with others providing cash or self-service technology.
The bank said ‘pop-up’ mobile branches would also be rolled out later this year.
“The direction of travel is really quite clear and this is borne out by the reduction in branch usage and increase in digital interaction that we are seeing first-hand,” said Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK’s head of network.