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One worker at a time, virus-hit China’s factories sputter back online

The Xuda Shoes Company is usually bustling at this time of year, with workers having long returned from a Lunar New Year holiday in their hometowns to kick-start production of tens of thousands of shoes daily.

But China’s coronavirus epidemic has changed all that.

Only about one-third of the roughly 1,000-strong workforce at Xuda’s factory in the eastern export hub of Wenzhou are around, the rest blocked by virus-induced travel disruptions and safety measures

Getting back to full annual capacity of seven million pairs of shoes could take several more weeks, company officials said.

The situation in Wenzhou, a trade entrepot for centuries and now a major producer of much of the world’s shoes, eyeglasses and clothing, reflects the slow progress in fully reviving China’s economy, the world’s second-largest and an indispensable lynchpin of global growth.

China’s economy remains rooted in manufacturing, much of that for export, and heavily reliant on countless labourers from the vast interior who had returned home in January for the most important Chinese holiday before the epidemic hit, killing more than 2,800 people and infecting around 80,000.

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