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SHANGHAI: China stocks closed lower on Wednesday as weak March import data fanned fears of a further slowdown in economic growth amid the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak in two years.

The blue-chip CSI300 index fell 1% to 4,139.74, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.8% to 3,186.82.

The Hang Seng index rose 0.3% to 21,374.37, while the China Enterprises Index gained 0.7% to 7,314.82 points.

China’s imports unexpectedly fell in March as COVID-19 curbs across large parts of the country hampered freight arrivals and weakened demand, while export growth slowed slightly, prompting analysts to expect a worsening in trade in the second quarter.

China reported 1,513 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 26,525 new asymptomatic cases for the country’s mainland on April 12.

Nomura analysts said China has been facing a rising risk of recession since mid-March, as their survey showed 45 cities have implemented either full or partial lockdowns, affecting 26.4% of the country’s population and 40.3% of gross domestic product.

The Caixin media group reported that Shanghai was one of the eight cities involved in a pilot scheme launched on Monday to lower centralised quarantine requirements from 14 to 10 days, citing a government plan set out in a document that has not been formally published. China should cut banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) and interest rates to support the slowing economy, even as consumer inflation picks up steadily, a government adviser said.

Healthcare and media stocks dropped 3.7% and 3.8%, respectively, while semiconductor shares fell 2.8%.

Energy stocks gained 2.9%, with the coal sector up 4.4% while non-ferrous metal firms added 2.4%.

Tech giants listed in Hong Kong edged up 0.5%, while healthcare firms lost 1.7% as concerns over China-US audit disputes remained unsolved.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday added 12 Chinese companies, including Sohu.com and Connect Biopharma Holdings, into the latest batch of stocks facing delisting risks from the United States.

Twenty three US-listed Chinese companies have been identified by the US regulator as carrying risks under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act.

Global index-tracking fund managers with exposure to US-listed Chinese firms are pushing index providers to swap into their Hong Kong-traded peers on delisting risks.

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