Second quarter expansion of 0.4 percent is the weakest performance since the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

China’s economy grew at the slowest pace since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the second quarter, highlighting the punishing economic toll of Beijing’s stringent “dynamic zero COVID” strategy.

The world’s second-largest economy expanded just 0.4 percent year-on-year between April and June, as lockdowns across the country stifled industrial production and consumer spending.

The result was well below market expectations and the worst performance since the first quarter of 2020, when the economy shrank 6.9 percent after authorities imposed the first COVID-related lockdowns in the city of Wuhan.

“The data was weaker than expected, with most analysts expecting around 1 percent,” Carlos Casanova, senior economist for Asia at UBP in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera.

“We were below consensus, as we expected the decline in China’s housing sector to drag on aggregate demand, reducing the likelihood of a sharper rebound in consumption in June.”

Casanova said he expected growth in 2022 to remain below 4 percent.

Major cities, including the commercial capital Shanghai, were put into lockdown in March and April, as part of a “zero COVID” policy that seeks to eliminate the virus at almost any cost.

While officials have since lifted many of the harshest curbs, new restrictions affecting millions of people have been introduced in recent weeks in Xian, Lanzhou, Haikou, Macau, and Anhui province.

Despite the mounting economic and social toll, Chinese President Xi Jingping has promised to maintain the country’s zero-tolerance approach, stressing the need to “put people and life at the forefront”.

China has set an economic growth target of about 5.5 percent for 2022, that economists widely believe it is unlikely to reach.