Chen Si / AP
BEIJING — Shanghai let 4 million more people out of their homes on Wednesday as antivirus controls ordered to close China’s largest city eased, while the International Monetary Fund lowered its forecast of China’s economic growth and warned the global flow of industrial goods could are disturbed.
A total of nearly 12 million people in the city of 25 million will be allowed to go out after the first round of easing last week, health official Wu Ganyu said at a news conference. Wu said the virus was “under effective control” in some parts of the city for the first time.
According to the latest changes, more than 4 million people have been admitted to areas where the status has shifted from closed to controlled, Wu said. He said some are not allowed to leave their neighborhood and that large gatherings are prohibited.
Meanwhile, the IMF lowered its forecast of China’s growth this year from 4.8% to 4.4% due to the closures of Shanghai and other industrial centers. That’s nearly half less than last year’s 8.1% growth and below the ruling Communist Party’s target of 5.5%.
China’s number of cases in the latest wave of infection is relatively low, but the ruling party is maintaining a “zero-COVID” strategy that has shut down major cities to isolate each case.
On Wednesday, the government reported 19,927 new cases in mainland China, with 2,761 without symptoms. Shanghai accounted for 95% of the total, or 18,902 cases, of which 2,495 had symptoms.
The Shanghai City Health Bureau reported that seven people with COVID-19 died on Tuesday, but said the deaths were due to cancer, heart disease and other ailments. All but two were over 60.
Shanghai closed businesses and locked most of the population at home as of March 28 after a spike in infections. That led to complaints about the lack of access to food and medicines. People in Shanghai who test positive but have no symptoms have been ordered to quarantine centers in exhibition halls and other public buildings.
Official data this week showed that economic growth has slowed in the first three months of this year compared to the last quarter of 2021.
The lockdowns in China “will likely exacerbate supply disruptions elsewhere” and could put further pressure on inflation, the IMF said in a report.
The ruling party has promised tax refunds and other aid to businesses, but is dodging large-scale stimulus spending. Economists say the strategy needs more time to show results and Beijing may need to spend more or cut interest rates.
Chinese leaders have pledged to try to reduce the human and economic costs of fighting disease by adopting a “dynamic cleansing” strategy that isolates neighborhoods and other smaller areas rather than entire cities. However, many areas appear to be imposing stricter controls after Shanghai officials were criticized for not acting aggressively enough.
Also on Wednesday, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered local officials to avoid measures that could hinder spring planting by farmers feeding China’s 1.4 billion people. The order followed warnings that production of wheat and other crops could be disrupted, boosting demand for imports and pushing up already high world prices.
The government reported that 26,760 people who tested positive but had no symptoms were released from observation on Wednesday. That included 25,411 in Shanghai, where some quarantine center residents have complained of being unsanitary.
Other industrial and trade centers, including Changchun, Jilin and Shenyang to the northeast, the port of Tianjin to the east of Beijing and Shenzhen and Guangzhou to the south, have closed businesses, imposed travel restrictions or told residents to stay at home.
Global automakers and other manufacturers reduced or stopped production because suppliers were unable to deliver.
This week, Volkswagen AG announced that its Changchun plant has resumed production and that the automaker was considering reopening its Shanghai plant. BMW AG said the plant in Shenyang has reopened.
As some cities eased controls, the government of Harbin, a city of 5.3 million in the northeast, suspended bus and subway services on Wednesday and banned the public from traveling between districts.