An outbreak of COVID-19 at the largest iPhone manufacturing plant in Zhengzhou, China, has forced some factory workers into self-quarantine, part of a citywide outbreak which also caused the closure of shops and hotels near the plant.
Foxconn, a major Apple maker, confirmed in a statement to The New York Times on Thursday that a “small number of employees” had been asked to self-quarantine, but declined to comment on details of the outbreak.
Foxconn, headquartered in Taiwan, said efforts to control the outbreak were “progressing steadily” and quarantined employees were receiving what they needed, including “material supplies, psychological comfort and feedback reagents”.
The outbreak comes at an inopportune time for Apple and Foxconn, which now make the new iPhone 14. Foxconn said production and operations were “relatively stable” and production estimates for the three-month period from October to December “would remain unchanged”. .”
This part of the year is usually a critical time for iPhones. Last year, about a third of the $192 billion in iPhone sales were generated during the holiday season alone, according to Apple. The phone helped boost total revenue by 8% in the last quarter, the company reported Thursday.
Called “iPhone City” by locals, Zhengzhou is a city of 6 million people located in the interior of China. It’s a central artery of Apple’s iPhone production, producing about half of Apple’s global supply, according to Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at TF International Securities, a financial services group.
“What if it hits other Chinese cities where Apple has supply chains? he said. “It’s definitely something that Apple needs to consider in the medium to long term.”
Apple has displaced production of some of its next-generation iPhones in India, a move in response to growing awareness of the increased risks caused by the concentration of manufacturing in a single country.
The Zhengzhou city government said neighborhoods in several of the city’s 12 districts were under some form of restrictions.
The restrictions were imposed against the backdrop of last week’s Communist Party Congress which extended Xi Jinping’s leadership for a defying third term. Under Xi’s leadership, China has stuck to a zero tolerance approach to the pandemic – marked by mass testing, severe shutdowns and quarantines – which has shuttered entire cities because of a handful of cases. Some people struggled to get food and some were confined for weeks in poorly constructed isolation facilities.
Gao Mingjun, 24, a resident of Zhengzhou, said her mother and aunt had been quarantined in their dorms at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory for weeks.
“I haven’t seen my mum in over a month,” she said, adding, “There are basically no upsides, but those are all flaws,” with the restrictions of the pandemic.
Although financial markets signaled unease over China’s economic slowdown, local governments closely followed Xi’s playbook. During his keynote address to the congress, Xi reiterated his commitment to China’s pandemic policy, describing the fight against COVID-19 as “all-out war”.
Several other cities have battled outbreaks in recent weeks, including Wuhan, where the virus first appeared; Lanzhou, in the province of Gansu; and Xining in the northwest province of Qinghai. The latest virus surge, which reached 993 cases on Thursday, follows earlier outbreaks in early October in western Xinjiang and southern Hainan, among other places, when daily cases reached 1,400.
The lockdown in Zhengzhou began early last week when residents of more than a dozen neighborhoods in the central district of Zhongyuan, west of the Foxconn factory, were told to stay at home, according to a notice official. On Tuesday, images and videos of an outbreak inside Foxconn erupted on social media, sparking outrage among Chinese netizens who accused the company of not being transparent and downplaying the situation. The #ZhengzhouFoxconn hashtag was briefly used on Weibo, a popular social media platform in China.
But some online commentators were relieved the news had finally surfaced. Messages revealed shortages of food and other necessities in workers’ dormitories.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.