HONG KONG– Workers at a manufacturing plant in central China’s Zhengzhou city appear to have left to avoid COVID-19 restrictions, with many traveling on foot for days after an unknown number of workers were quarantined at the facility after a virus outbreak.
Videos circulating on Chinese social media platforms showed people believed to be Foxconn workers climbing fences and carrying their belongings on the road.
The Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, Henan province, is one of the largest factories in China assembling products for Apple Inc., including its latest iPhone 14 devices.
Any videos showing workers supposedly leaving the facility could not be verified. It is not known if the workers leaving the facility had escaped or if they had been allowed to leave.
Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Volunteers from nearby villages distributed food and drink to Foxconn workers. One such volunteer, who asked to be identified only by his surname Zhang for privacy, was assigned to distribute supplies his village in Xingyang County had prepared. He said the people shown in a video he uploaded to short video platform Douyin were Foxconn workers because they would have to take that route if they left the facility.
The worker exodus comes after reports that Foxconn had placed a number of workers in quarantine following an outbreak of COVID-19 at the plant.
The Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou can accommodate up to 350,000 workers, but it is unclear how many are currently employed by the factory. It’s also unclear how many left or how many were impacted by the COVID-19 curbs put in place at the factory before they left.
Earlier this week, media said a “closed loop” system had been implemented at the factory, largely limiting workers to movement between their residence and the factory.
Local media reported that Foxconn workers have complained about poor food quality and a lack of medical care for those who have tested positive amid growing concerns about the infection spreading. The company also denied rumors that 20,000 people at the plant had been infected with COVID-19.
Towns near Zhengzhou have since urged Foxconn workers to report to local authorities if they plan to return to their hometowns so they can undergo appropriate isolation measures.
According to posts on the Zhengzhou government’s WeChat public account, Foxconn issued notices to workers at its factory on Sunday, pledging to ensure the safety, legitimate rights and income of those who wish to stay.
A day after videos of workers leaving the factory surfaced, Foxconn and several local governments also arranged transport for employees who choose to return home. It is not clear to what extent the workers have decided to leave the factory.
The departure of Foxconn workers from the Zhengzhou plant highlights growing dissatisfaction with China’s ‘zero-COVID’ strategy, where governments are trying to eradicate outbreaks by implementing strict measures isolation and lockdown where infections are detected.
AP video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.