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Major city in near-lockdown after record Covid cases and iPhone worker protests

HONG KONG — The Chinese city of Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory for Apple, was largely in lockdown on Thursday amid a growing Covid outbreak as China reported more new cases in the whole country than at any time during the pandemic.

In the past 24 hours, the number of new Covid cases in China rose by 31,444, the National Health Commission said, beating a record previously set during Shanghai’s two-month lockdown last spring. China also reported six new virus deaths since the weekend, its first in six months, as it battles outbreaks across the country caused by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

The restrictions in Zhengzhou, a city of more than 10 million people, came a day after violent protests erupted near a factory run by Taiwanese company Foxconn, Apple’s main supplier. The factory’s iPhone 14 production has been slowed by a labor shortage that began last month, when a Covid outbreak and accompanying lockdown sent workers back to their hometowns native.

To keep production lines running, Foxconn offered bonuses and higher wages to attract workers and recruit new employees. During protests this week, footage of which was posted on Chinese social media and verified by NBC News, security guards could be seen beating workers who said the terms of their payment had changed abruptly. .

Foxconn apologized Thursday for what it called a “computer information input error in the onboarding process,” saying the salary was the same as advertised.

Apple said in a statement Thursday that it has team members on the ground at the factory and is “working closely with Foxconn to ensure their employees’ concerns are addressed.” .

Under Zhengzhou’s new ‘mobility controls’ – a government euphemism for lockdown – residents of eight ‘high-risk’ districts have been told to stay at home for five days except to buy food or get medical treatment, and submit to daily PCR tests. The restrictions affect around 6.6 million people, although people in other districts have also been told to stay at home.

China’s “dynamic zero-Covid” measures make it an exception among the world’s major economies, causing growing public frustration and economic hardship. Although authorities announced new “optimized” measures this month, they are struggling to ease the burden without triggering a major wave of exits.

Major city in near-lockdown after record Covid cases and iPhone worker protests
A still from a video recording shows workers at Foxconn’s iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, central China, clashing with riot police in a dispute over wages and living conditions.AFPTV / AFP TEAMS – Getty Images

The Chinese government says its pandemic strategy has saved lives and is needed to protect the fragile healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The latest deaths bring China’s official death toll to 5,232 compared to more than one million in the United States.

Despite the alleged relaxation of measures in China, a single case can still lead to targeted lockdowns and sudden quarantines.

Covid measures were further tightened on Thursday in the capital, Beijing, which is already in near-lockdown with schools, parks and shopping malls closed and a negative Covid test required every 48 hours to enter public places everywhere in the city. Hundreds of residential buildings are currently sealed off with people unable to enter or leave as authorities say Beijing faces its worst outbreak of the pandemic.

Shanghai Disneyland is set to reopen on Friday “with limited daily capacity”, nearly a month after a single visitor’s positive test prompted it to close.

Hannah Lee, Associated press and Reuters contributed.


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