Foxconn's Covid chaos: Fear grips China after desperate workers flee lockdown at iPhone factory
Even as China continues to grapple with President Xi Jinping's rigid zero-Covid policy, workers of Apple's largest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou have allegedly escaped after an outbreak forced staff to lockdown at the plant.
Chinese cities are desperately chalking plans to isolate migrant workers escaping to their home towns from the nation's largest Apple iPhone factory, amid concerns that they will spread coronavirus after leaving the plant in Covid-hit Zhengzhou.
Videos shared across social media show people, allegedly Foxconn workers, climbing over the plant's fence and dragging their luggage along a road. It was earlier reported that several workers were placed under stringent quarantine due to an outbreak of Covid in the factory.
At the Zhengzhou site, Foxconn, an Apple supplier with its headquarters in Taiwan, employs roughly 200,000 people. Although it stated on Sunday that it would not prevent them from leaving, neither the number of affected employees nor the number who have already quit has been made public.
The number of locally transmitted Covid cases in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, increased from 97 to 167 in the seven days leading up to October 29.
On Saturday, nearby cities, including Yuzhou, Changge and Qinyang, urged Foxconn employees to report to the local authorities before leaving the Covid-hit factory and heading home.
Separate communications sent to employees of Zhengzhou Foxconn on social media stated that returning workers were to travel "point to point" in prearranged vehicles and be quarantined upon arrival.
Since Saturday, images and videos have been making the rounds on social media, appearing to show Foxconn employees making their way home while traversing fields during the day and roadways at night.
"Some people were walking amid wheat fields with their luggage, blankets and quilts," wrote a WeChat user in a post about the social media images. "I couldn't help but feel sad."
One 22-year-old worker, surnamed Xia, told the Financial Times it was "total chaos in the dormitories" he and his colleagues were being kept in. "We jumped a plastic fence and a metal fence to get out of the campus," he added.
Workers also stated that to contain the outbreak, the area around the plant had been under lockdown for days and that workers who tested positive for Covid were subjected to daily testing and quarantines.
On October 19, Foxconn declared that all dine-in catering would be prohibited at the Zhengzhou factory and that employees would now be compelled to eat in their rooms.
While the plant scaled up manufacturing of the newest iPhone 14 models, the firm told reporters that "normal production" was being maintained.
"The government agreed to resume dine-in meals to improve the convenience and satisfaction of employees' lives," Foxconn said in a statement on Sunday.
It added that for those wanting to return home, "the [plant] is co-operating with the government to organise personnel and vehicles to provide a point-to-point orderly return service for employees from today".
Cities in China are granted the authority to act quickly to contain virus outbreaks as part of the country's stringent zero-Covid policy. This might range from complete lockdowns to frequent testing and travel limitations.
Several people had hoped that President Xi would rescind the law before the end of the year, but he made it clear at the most recent 20th Communist Party congress that this would not happen anytime soon.
(Image Credit: Getty Images/For representational purpose)