Workers in China walk out of major iPhone factory amid Covid restrictions

BEIJING — Migrant workers in central China are leaving one of the world’s largest iPhone factories amid a coronavirus outbreak in the nearby city of Zhengzhou, prompting local officials to make hasty plans to isolate them once they return home.

Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, reported 167 locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 in the seven days to October 29, up from 97 in the previous seven days.

Apple supplier Foxconn, based in Taiwan, currently has about 200,000 workers at the Zhengzhou complex and has not disclosed the number of infected workers, but said on Sunday it would not prevent workers from leaving.

Late Saturday, cities near Zhengzhou, including Yuzhou, Changge and Qinyang, urged Foxconn workers to report to local authorities in advance before heading home.

Returning workers will travel “point to point” in pre-arranged vehicles and be quarantined upon arrival, they said in separate letters on their respective social media accounts to Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou.

Under China’s strict zero-Covid policy, cities are under orders to act quickly to quell any outbreaks, with measures that could include full-scale lockdowns. On October 19, Foxconn banned all canteen meals and required workers to eat their meals in their dormitories.

“The government has agreed to continue the meals to improve the comfort and life satisfaction of workers,” Foxconn told Reuters in an emailed response to queries on Sunday.

“At the same time, for some employees who want to return home, the (factory) is working with the government to organize staff and vehicles to provide a regular return service for employees from today.”

Disruptions from China’s Covid policies to trade and industry have intensified in recent weeks as cases multiply. Shanghai Disney Resort announced on Monday that it was closing due to Covid-19 prevention measures, as Universal Beijing Resort was set to reopen after being closed since last Wednesday for the same reason.

“We know very well that under the current situation, it is a protracted battle,” Foxconn said.

However, the situation is gradually coming under control, he said, and Foxconn will coordinate spare production capacity with its other factories to reduce any impact on iPhone production.

Apple did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the Foxconn situation.

Foxconn did not respond to questions from Reuters about how many cases had been detected at its Zhengzhou factory and how many workers had left.

Photos and videos circulating on Chinese social media since Saturday show Foxconn workers, apparently returning home, walking in fields by day and along roads at night. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the reports.

In a show of support, residents in the area left bottled water and supplies by roadsides with signs such as: “For Foxconn workers returning home,” according to social media posts.

“Some people were walking among wheat fields with their luggage, blankets and quilts,” one user on WeChat, a popular social networking platform, wrote of the images.

“I couldn’t help but feel sad.”

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