South Africa’s retail sales fell more than expected in July as the slump triggered by the strict coronavirus lockdown continued to weigh, data showed on Wednesday, with sales of general retailers and of food and clothing the hardest hit.

Africa’s most advanced economy imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns at the end of March, allowing only essential sectors to operate, severely limiting consumer activity.

The lockdown has since been eased in recent months, although Covid-19 infections continued to climb, and now near 700 000.

Retail sales fell 9% year-on-year in July following a revised 7.2% contraction in June. On a monthly basis sales fell 1.1%, while recording a 9.4% decline in the three months since May. A Reuters poll had predicted a 5% annual contraction.

General retailers saw sales slump 39.1%. Food and beverages contracted 18.4%, while the textiles category shrunk 13.8%. Sales of household furniture recorded a strong rebound, up 14.6% year-on-year.

Economists consider retail sales a window into to the state of an economy. Together, consumer and services sectors account for around a third of GDP.

The rand was hardly moved by the figures and remained on the front foot, 1.06% firmer at 16.2800 per dollar at 1.15pm.