Workers leave the iPhone factory in Zhengzhou amidst COVID curbs

HONG KONG (AP) – Workers at a manufacturing plant in central China’s Zhengzhou city appear to have set off to avoid the COVID-19 curbs, with many traveling on foot for days after an unspecified number of employees was quarantined in the facility due to a virus outbreak.

Videos circulating on Chinese social media platforms showed people allegedly Foxconn workers climbing fences and carrying their belongings along the way.

The Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, Henan Province is one of the largest factories in China that assembles products for Apple Inc., including its latest iPhone 14 devices.

Not all videos showing workers leaving the facility could be verified. It is unclear whether the workers who left the facility fled or were allowed to leave.

Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Volunteers from nearby villages distribute food and drink to Foxconn workers. One of these volunteers, who asked to be identified only by his surname Zhang for privacy reasons, was tasked with distributing the supplies his village in Xingyang County had prepared. He said the people shown in a video he uploaded to the Douyin short video platform 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 quarantined a number of workers following a COVID-19 outbreak at the factory.

The Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou can accommodate up to 350,000 workers, but it is unclear how many are currently employed by the factory. It is also unclear how many of them left or how many were affected by the factory-implemented COVID-19 curbs prior to their departure.

Earlier this week, media reported that a “closed-loop” system had been implemented at the factory that largely restricts workers to movement between their residence and the factory.

Local media said Foxconn workers complained about poor food quality and lack of medical care for those who tested positive amid growing concerns that the infection could spread. The company also denied rumors that 20,000 people at the plant were infected with COVID-19.

Cities near Zhengzhou have since urged Foxconn workers to report to local authorities if they plan to return to their hometowns so they can undergo adequate isolation measures.

According to posts on the Zhengzhou government’s WeChat public account, Foxconn issued notices on Sunday to workers at its factory, pledging to ensure safety, legitimate rights and income for those willing to stay.

The day after videos of workers leaving the factory circulated, Foxconn and several local governments also arranged transportation for employees who choose to return home. It is not clear how much agency the workers had in deciding to leave the factory.

The departure of Foxconn workers from the Zhengzhou plant highlights the growing discontent in China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, in which governments attempt to eradicate outbreaks by implementing strict isolation and blocking measures where infections are detected.

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AP video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.

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