China has imposed a new round of Covid lockdowns, including in a city where workers at the world’s biggest iPhone factory clashed with police this week as a daily record of coronavirus cases tests its commitment to follow the rest of the world in easing pandemic restrictions.
The national health commission reported 31,444 new locally transmitted Covid cases on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since the coronavirus was first detected in China’s central 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 in central Henan province, where clashes erupted Tuesday and Wednesday between police and protesting workers at Foxconn’s iPhone factory, authorities announced a five-day lockdown for around 6 million people. Residents have been ordered to stay home and carry out daily PCR tests in a ‘war of annihilation’ against the virus.
A worker told AFP news agency that the protests had started over a dispute over promised bonuses at the Foxconn factory and “chaotic” living conditions.
Foxconn, the Taiwanese owner of the factory, which employs around 200,000 people in Zhengzhou, is desperate to continue operations after a handful of Covid cases forced it to lock down the factory, and it has recruited new workers across the country on advantageous packages to replace the thousands of people who left last month. Employees said the protests began after the company changed the terms of their pay.
Videos online showed thousands of people in masks facing rows of police in white protective gear with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and beat a protester with batons after he grabbed a metal pole that had been used to beat him.
Many employees accepted payments from the company and returned home on Thursday. Some said on social media that they received 10,000 yuan (£1,150) bonuses 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 ensure the salary was the same as that promised in official recruitment posters. “Regarding the violent incident, the company would continue to communicate with staff and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” a company statement said.
The strict application of China’s “dynamic zero Covid” policy for nearly three years has weighed on its economy and fueled public frustration.
On Nov. 11, the government announced it would shorten quarantines and ease other restrictions, a move seen as aimed at easing economic pressures and calming public discontent. But at the same time, senior officials warned executives not to let their guard down.
Among the new measures, Guangzhou imposed a five-day lockdown in Baiyun district starting Monday to curb the spike in cases. Residents are required to stay at home and public transport has been suspended, although areas that have not reported infections for three consecutive days could lift restrictions.
The city government of Changchun in northeastern Jilin province has urged residents to suspend non-essential travel and avoid going to public places, restaurants and public gatherings.
Shanghai has tightened restrictions for arrivals in the city. A notice on the city’s official WeChat account said people traveling to the city from Thursday would be tested for Covid and banned from going to restaurants and malls, among other public places, for five days after. their arrival.
Beijing has imposed new testing requirements for incoming travelers and residents. It requires a negative PCR test result within 48 hours for those seeking to enter public places such as malls, hotels and government buildings. City schools have moved to online classes.
Although the number of cases is relatively low compared to global figures, even small outbreaks in China often lead to district and city closures. Authorities this week reported China’s first Covid deaths in six months, bringing the total to 5,232.
A Zhengzhou resident who was among those scrambling to buy food at a market before the lockdown said on social media platform Sina Weibo: “All the stalls were full of people and the prices skyrocketed. .. no one was smiling”.
While China’s borders remain largely closed, the government has drawn up measures to ease the exit and entry process for foreign business executives, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.
Additional reports from The Associated Press, Agence France Presse and Reuters.