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Employees assembling iPhones in China leave factory to escape Covid lockdowns

A man is swabbed for a COVID-19 disease test at a testing booth next to a billboard advertising the Singles’ Day shopping festival, in Beijing, China, 27 October 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Suspected Foxconn workers appeared in videos circulating on Chinese social media climbing fences and walking down a road with their belongings in tow. The scenes underscored the growing public discontent with the Chinese “zero COVID” strategyin which the government attempts to eliminate outbreaks with strict testing, isolation and confinement measures when infections are detected.

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The outbreaks have put entire cities under quarantine. In the latest wave of infections, the Shanghai Disney Resort park indicated on Monday that it would close with immediate effect and for an indefinite period. “to meet the requirement of pandemic control and prevention.” In an online notice, the park apologized for the inconvenience and said it would offer exchanges or refunds to those affected by the closure.

Barricades are set up outside the Shanghai Disney Resort subway station after it announced it would suspend operations to comply with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prevention measures, in China October 31, 2022. REUTERS/ Aly Song
Barricades are set up outside the Shanghai Disney Resort subway station after it announced it would suspend operations to comply with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prevention measures, in China October 31, 2022. REUTERS/ Aly Song

Foxconn’s plant in Zhengzhou, in Henan province, has room for up to 350,000 workers and is one of the largest factories in China that assembles products for Apple Inc. including the new iPhone 14. It was not possible to verify all the videos that they showed workers allegedly leaving the compound. It was unclear whether the leaving workers had escaped or been allowed to leave.

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Foxconn did not initially respond to a request for comment.

Volunteers from nearby towns offered food and drink to the Foxconn workers. One of those volunteers, who asked to be identified only by his surname Zhang, for privacy reasons, was left in charge of distributing supplies prepared by his town in Xingyang county. He said that the people who appeared in the video that he had uploaded to the Douyin short video platform were Foxconn workers because they had to take that road to leave the factory.

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A woman carrying an umbrella walks past a Foxconn logo in front of a company building in Taipei, Taiwan, October 31, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman carrying an umbrella walks past a Foxconn logo in front of a company building in Taipei, Taiwan, October 31, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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It was unclear how many people were currently working at the Zhengzhou plant, how many had left, or how many had been affected by COVID-19 restrictions at the site. Media reports this week indicated that the factory had introduced a “closed circuit” which largely restricted the movement of workers between their residence and the plant.

Foxconn employees had complained about the quality of the food and the lack of medical care for those who tested positive, amid concerns about a rise in infections, according to local media. The company denied rumors that there were 20,000 people at the plant infected with COVID-19.

Cities near Zhengzhou urged Foxconn workers to inform local authorities if they had planned to return to their populations of origin, in order to prepare adequate isolation measures. The company promised factory workers on Sunday to ensure the safety, legitimate rights and income of those who remain, the Zhengzhou government said on the WeChat platform.

The day after videos of workers leaving on foot circulated, Foxconn and several local governments organized shuttles for employees who had chosen to return home. It was unclear to what extent they had had a say in the matter.

With AP information

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