China's 'hardware capital' grinds to a halt amid coronavirus fears

Makeshift barricades and a migrant worker shortage have upended life and industry in Yongkang, one of China's biggest manufacturing hubs.

In the city of Yongkang, 350 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, a volunteer guards the entrance to his village from outsiders. The red sign reads, “Life is heavier than Mount Tai, epidemic is the command, prevention and control is responsibility.”

Yongkang is considered the “hardware capital of China.” Buried in the heart of the country’s eastern province of Zhejiang, the city’s ten thousand or so factories churn out products such as robot arms, automobile parts, and household appliances, spreading $4-billion worth of merchandise across the globe every year.

At least, that was life in Yongkang—whose name means “forever healthy”—before the novel coronavirus infected nearly 43,000 people in China.

Though three-quarters of those afflicted with the infectious disease live in Hubei Province, the outbreak and the transportation restrictions over the past three weeks have had a chilling effect on migrant labor across China—especially for manufacturing hubs like Yongkang. Moody’s Analytics, a financial risk management firm, predicts that the outbreak could shave one percent—about $141 billion—off China’s gross domestic product.

“Without money coming in, I don’t know how much longer we can last,” says Wang Weiwang, a 32-year-old manager of Yongkang Mali’ao Industry & Trade Limited, a small factory that manufactures electric kitchen wares, such as cookers and baking trays. While the city has only five confirmed cases, Zhejiang Province ranks third in the country with 1,117 infected by "SARS-CoV-2," the World Health Organization's new name for the novel coronavirus. (Find out what life is like inside the quarantined city of Wuhan.)

Wang’s factory should have resumed production a week ago, but the central government extended the Lunar New Year holiday in wake of the epidemic. Even with the holiday lifting on Monday, he still worries the plant won’t come back online...

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