Workers at Apple’s biggest iPhone factory in central China clashed with riot police wearing hazmat suits for dire living conditions inside a COVID-bubble 19 strict, social media images showed.

A series of videos posted and censored on websites such as Weibo, as well as streaming apps Kuaishou and Douyin, showed several hundred workers emerging from their dormitories in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province nicknamed “iPhone City”.

The site is owned by Taiwan-headquartered Foxconn, which hired tens of thousands of temporary assembly line workers last week after a mishandled COVID outbreak led to an exodus at its factory, whose more than 200,000 workers build devices for Apple and tech products for the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

China is the only major economy still trying to eradicate all infections under its so-called “zero COVID momentum” approach, a policy that is being tested as the country faces a record number of cases. as winter approaches.

Disruptions caused by flash lockdowns across China, including Zhengzhou, have strained Apple’s ability to meet holiday demand for its latest iPhone 14 models.

Customers line up at an Apple Store to pick up their orders for the new iPhone 14 on September 16, 2022 in Wuhan.
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Pictures shared on Twitter showed large-scale protests erupting overnight and continuing into the day. Crowds of workers were seen breaking through barricades and clashing with officers wearing protective gear and wielding riot shields and batons.

A number of protesters appeared to have been isolated from the streets and beaten by riot police sent to restore order, the videos showed, but Newsweek could not independently verify the exact time and location they were filmed.

The content of the clips suggests Foxconn workers went on strike after being placed in overcrowded dormitories with little separation despite an ongoing COVID outbreak. Poor food quality and unpaid bonuses were also problems.

Rioters protested having to work alongside people allegedly infected, their concerns apparently stemming not from fear of infection but the likelihood of unpaid wages if they test positive and are forced into quarantine.

Local authorities could not be reached for comment. In a public statement late Wednesday, Foxconn confirmed that “violence” had taken place at its Zhengzhou industrial park, and said it would communicate with its employees and the government “to prevent similar incidents from happening again.”

The assembler said all bonuses would be paid in accordance with employment contracts and denied that healthy and infected workers had been arranged to stay in the same accommodation. The dormitories were disinfected and inspected by the government before new staff moved in, he added.

Downstream messaging

Zero COVID is Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s flagship public health strategy, a policy that kept the virus at bay for two years but was tested in 2022 by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.

To maintain public acquiescence, the Chinese government’s message on COVID has remained one of the viruses as a life-threatening disease, and likely to cause widespread deaths and long-term effects if allowed to spread. spread in local communities.

Those fears have driven thousands of Foxconn workers to flee the plant, many on foot, since late October. The chaos in Zhengzhou, where 70% of the world’s iPhones are made, has directly threatened Apple’s supply.

“COVID-19 restrictions have temporarily affected the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max main assembly plant located in Zhengzhou, China,” the Cupertino tech giant said early. november.

Afraid of losing one of the province’s biggest customers – Apple has already begun to diversify its supply chain to India – Henan officials have hired tens of thousands of local executives, including Party officials lower-level Communists from nearby villages and towns, to help fill the labor gap.

Yang Han, a Foxconn executive, told Chinese business news site Yicai that more than 100,000 people responded to the recruitment drive.

“The next step is always to maintain adequate epidemic prevention in the industrial park. It has been a difficult time,” she said, noting that the company is “grateful to the government.”

The vaccination rate in China is high; around 90% of its 1.4 billion people have received at least two doses. Although Chinese firings remain largely untested against large-scale infections without lockdown, national statistics suggest that current infections are not as deadly as authorities portray them.

The country has reported tens of thousands of new cases every day in the COVID wave, the largest in the pandemic so far and likely to surpass Shanghai’s outbreak figures this spring. But serious and critical cases remain rare, and on Monday its seven-day death average was one.

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