Big city almost on lockdown after record Covid cases and iPhone worker protests

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

In the previous 24 hours, the number of new Covid cases in China rose by 31,444, the National Health Commission said, surpassing a record previously set during the two-month lockdown in Shanghai last spring. China has also reported six new virus deaths since the weekend, the first in six months, as it battles nationwide outbreaks 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 broke out near a factory of the 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 fleeing back to their hometowns.

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

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

Apple said in a statement on Thursday that it had team members at the factory and was “working closely with Foxconn to ensure the concerns of its employees are addressed.”

Under Zhengzhou’s new “mobility controls,” a government euphemism for the lockdown, residents of eight “high-risk” districts were told to stay home for five days, except to buy food or obtain medical treatment. , and that they underwent daily PCR tests. The restrictions affect some 6.6 million people, though residents of other districts have also been urged to stay at home.

China’s “dynamic zero covid” measures make it an outlier among the world’s major economies, causing growing public frustration and economic pain. Although officials announced new “streamlined” measures this month, they are struggling to ease the burden without triggering a huge wave of outflows.

Image: CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS-PROTEST
An image taken from video footage 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 EQUIPMENT – Getty Images

The Chinese government argues that its pandemic strategy has saved lives and is necessary to prevent the fragile health care system from being overwhelmed. The latest deaths bring China’s official tally to 5,232 compared with more than 1 million in the United States.

Despite the alleged easing of measures in China, a single case can still trigger selective lockdowns and sudden quarantines.

Covid measures were further tightened on Thursday in the capital Beijing, which is already all but locked down with schools, parks and shopping malls closed and a negative covid test required every 48 hours to enter public places anywhere in the city. city. Hundreds of residential buildings are currently closed, with people unable to enter or exit, as authorities say Beijing faces its most serious outbreak of the pandemic.

Shanghai Disneyland will reopen on Friday “with limited daily capacity”, nearly a month after a single visitor’s positive test led to its closure.

hannah lee, Associated Press Y Reuters contributed.

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