Regions making up a third of China’s economy expanded slower than the national growth rate in the first quarter, underscoring the extent of the damage caused by a worsening Covid-19 outbreak and widening lockdowns. Six provincial-level jurisdictions – all of which suffered a rise in infections in the January-March period – lagged behind the national gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 4.8 per cent, according to local statistics bureaus. That included Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces, two of the country’s biggest provincial economies, which grew 3.3 per cent and 4.6 per cent, respectively. In Guangdong, the technology hub Shenzhen was locked down for a week in March, while manufacturing base Dongguan salvaged factory activity by keeping workers in so-called closed loops, where they lived on site and were tested frequently. Several cities in Jiangsu, including the key electronics hub Suzhou near Shanghai, also tightened controls as infections rose. Capital flight puts China on alert for ‘spillover effects’ from US rate hikes The other laggards included Henan, Liaoning, Shanghai and Tianjin. The latter, a port city that recorded China’s first community spread of Omicron in January, expanded just 0.1 per cent and had been struggling before the latest outbreak. The quarter finished before the bulk of Shanghai’s ongoing lockdown . The first-quarter data made public so far includes 28 of China’s 31 provincial-level jurisdictions. Jilin, Xinjiang and Tibet, which contributed just 3.13 per cent of national GDP, have yet to disclose results. Consumer spending in the hardest-hit provinces was also weak, with several falling short of the national quarterly retail sales growth rate of 3.3 per cent. Guangdong’s retail sales grew 1.7 per cent in the first quarter from a year prior, while sales in Jiangsu ticked up just 0.5 per cent. Sales in Shanghai contracted 3.8 per cent. Tianjin’s sales were down 3.9 per cent. Jiangxi province was the quarter’s best performer, with its economy growing 6.9 per cent. The southeastern province, known for the production of fine porcelain, is home to 45 million people and recorded retail sales growth of 8.9 per cent. Investment and industrial production in Jiangxi were also strikingly strong, up 15.6 per cent and 9.5 per cent, respectively. China’s overall growth outlook is weakening , though, as lockdowns in places like Shanghai drag on and as cases now start to rise in Beijing, prompting fears of strict curbs there. Economists have slashed their growth forecasts on the country’s strict adherence to its zero-Covid policy. GDP is expected to grow 4.9 per cent in 2022, according to the latest survey conducted by Bloomberg News, far short of the government’s target of about 5.5 per cent . As market confidence slips and pressure on the economy mounts, the government has made frequent pledges of support – though investors have been weary about a lack of follow through. The Communist Party’s Politburo – its top decision-making body – has an opportunity to signal changes this week during its quarterly economic meeting.