China zero-Covid: Chinese researchers tread the sensitive ground

The report by China Real Estate Information Corp. (CRIC), published late last month, quickly went viral. He claimed vacancy rates in malls across the city were at an alarming level due to restrictions and said 34% of stores were closed at a landmark mall in Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial district.

On average, 9% of stores in Shanghai’s top 20 malls were closed since the Covid situation worsened in the second quarter, significantly above the 5% level at which overall shopping center operations would be affected, according to the research firm.

The Shanghai Observer, a website run by the official government newspaper of Shanghai, said on Friday that the methodology used by CRIC was at odds with industry practice.

According to statistics attributed to CBRE Group – a global commercial real estate services company – the average vacancy rate in shanghai malls has been between 6.7% and 8.2% over the past three years. The Shanghai Observer also attacked some media outlets that took over the report for “exaggerating the truth” and “taking the numbers out of context”.

CRIC and CBRE did not respond to requests for comment.

Shanghai was under a strict lockdown for two months earlier this year, and continues to face restrictions in parts of the city where new cases have broken out.
In recent weeks, the Chinese government has significantly tightened Covid restrictions to contain the spread of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron. Analysts say the country is unlikely to relax its Covid rules before the Communist Party congress which begins on October 16.

President Xi Jinping, who is set to seek an unprecedented third term, will not want to see any runaway rise in Covid cases until his political future is secured, experts say.

But the restrictions are hurting the economy – analysts predict growth of just 3% this year – and leading to growing public discontent on the Internet. In recent days, many social media users have complained about the havoc wrought by frequent lockdowns and endless testing, from food shortages to poor job and income prospects.

Reports withdrawn

A closed shopping mall is seen on a street during the lockdown amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Shanghai, China April 14, 2022.
Chinese metropolis Chengdu extends Covid lockdown, again, with no end in sight

The CRIC report is not the only piece of economic research on Covid that has come under scrutiny recently in China.

A Chinese investment bank’s Covid report was deleted shortly after it was published last week, sparking a flurry of online speculation that it may have been censored.

Huatai Securities, based in Nanjing, pointed out in its report on Wednesday that the Omicron BA.5 subvariant has caused fewer deaths than influenza in several countries and regions, such as Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Huatai Securities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

And last month, Anbound Consulting, a Beijing-based economic research firm, published a report on its Weibo and WeChat accounts titled “it’s time for China to change its Covid policy”. This report was removed from both platforms a day later.

— CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

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