China has imposed a new round of Covid lockdowns, including in a city where workers at the world’s largest iPhone factory clashed with police this week as a daily record in coronavirus cases tests its commitment to helping the rest of the world. world in easing pandemic restrictions.
The national health commission reported 31,444 new locally transmitted cases of Covid on Wednesday, the highest daily number since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The government responded by tightening Covid restrictions in cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and ordering mass testing.
In Zhengzhou, central Henan province, which saw clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday between police and protesters at Foxconn’s iPhone factory, authorities announced a five-day lockdown for about 6 million people. Residents were ordered to stay home and conduct daily PCR tests in a “war of annihilation” against the virus.
A worker told AFP news agency the protests had started after a dispute over promised bonuses at the Foxconn factory and “chaotic” living conditions.
Foxconn, the Taiwan-based owner of the factory, which employs about 200,000 people in Zhengzhou, was desperate to keep operations going after a handful of Covid cases forced it to close the facility, and it was recruiting new workers from across the country. land on favorable packages to replace the thousands who walked out last month. Workers said the protests started after the company changed wage terms.
Videos online showed thousands of people in masks facing rows of police in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and clubbed a protester after he grabbed hold of a metal pole that had been used to beat him.
Many employees accepted payouts from the company and went home on Thursday. Some said on social media that they had received bonuses of 10,000 yuan (£1,150) in exchange for terminating their contracts.
Foxconn apologized on Thursday for what it called “an input error in the computer system” and said it would guarantee pay was the same as promised on official hiring posters. “Regarding the violent incident, the company would continue to communicate with staff and government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” a company statement said.
The strict enforcement of China’s “dynamic zero Covid” policy for nearly three years has weighed on the economy and fueled popular frustration.
On November 11, the government announced it would be shortening quarantines and easing other restrictions, a measure intended to ease economic pressures and ease public discontent. But at the same time, senior officials warned cadres not to be wary.
Under the new measures, Guangzhou imposed a five-day lockdown in the Baiyun district from Monday to curb the surge in cases. Residents have been told to stay home and public transport has been suspended, although areas that have not reported infections for three consecutive days can lift restrictions.
The government of the northeastern city of Changchun, Jilin Province, urged residents to stop non-essential travel and avoid going to public places, restaurants and public gatherings.
Shanghai has tightened restrictions on arrivals in the city. A post on the city’s official WeChat account said people traveling to the city from Thursday would be tested for Covid and banned from restaurants and shopping malls, among other public venues, for five days after their arrival.
Beijing has imposed new testing requirements on inbound travelers and residents. It requires a negative PCR test result within 48 hours for those who want to enter public places such as shopping malls, hotels and government buildings. Schools across the city have switched to online classes.
While the number of cases is relatively low compared to global figures, even small outbreaks in China often lead to lockdowns of districts and cities. Authorities this week reported China’s first Covid deaths in six months, bringing the total to 5,232.
A resident of Zhengzhou, who was among those looking for food at a market before the lockdown, said on social media platform Sina Weibo: “All the stalls were full of people and prices have skyrocketed… no one was smiling.”
While China’s borders remain largely closed, the government has put in place measures to ease the entry and exit process for foreign business people, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Additional coverage by Associated Press, Agence France Presse and Reuters.