This was the week that Chinese industry and commerce was supposed to stir back to life after an extended new year holiday triggered by the rapid spread from Wuhan of the highly contagious coronavirus. But Lu Hua, who owns a factory making car parts in the southern city of Shenzhen, is still waiting for local government approval to reopen the plant, which exports 95 per cent of its output. “We have prepared everything based on government guidelines – masks, hand sanitiser and so on,” he says. “But one day before reopening, we got a notice from the government that the policy changed. We need to fill a bunch of new forms and apply again. The government will then send an inspection team.”

He adds: “We’ve been calling and following up. But there is nothing we can do. They just told us to wait. It’s really hard to explain to our clients.” Virus test: more than 64,000 people have so far been found to have Covid-19 in China alone Even in Beijing, with a population of 22m, the response has been fitful. The Jing-A brewery, situated in one of Beijing’s glitzier shopping districts, remained open through some of the earliest and worst days of the epidemic, only to close on February 10 when district officials told staff they could not serve parties of more than twopeople.

With more than 64,000 cases of the virus in China alone, the prolonged shutdown in large parts of the country is beginning to cast a shadow over the rest of the global economy. The Chinese economy is now more than four times larger than it wasat the time of the 2002-03 Sars outbreak –  and it is considerably more important as a source of demand and for its central role in many industrial supply chains.