Chinese workers appear to hop fences to escape COVID-19 outbreak at iPhone factory

Screengrab of a video posted to Twitter by the BBC's China correspondent appearing to show workers escaping an iPhone factory in Zhengzhou amid a COVID-19 lockdown. Stephen McDonell/Twitter

Foxconn, one of Apple’s largest suppliers, is dealing with a crisis at its biggest iPhone assembly factory in Zhengzhou, China, after it locked down the facility in accordance with the country’s zero-COVID policy.

Videos circulating on social media appear to show workers from the plant hopping fences and hitching rides with truckers and passing cars in order to escape the quarantine. According to media reports, hundreds of thousands of Foxconn workers were locked inside the plant with no clear idea of how many COVID-19 cases were active on the campus.

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Since early October, Zhengzhou, a central Chinese city home to around 12 million people, has been under partial lockdown in accordance with the country’s zero-tolerance policy towards COVID-19 that gives cities sweeping powers to enact quarantines and mass testing requirements, even when case numbers are low.

By mid-October, a lockdown was also instituted in Foxconn’s Zhengzhou campus, which houses 200,000 of workers as part of “closed-loop” system, where workers live on-site to keep production lines running in China’s biggest manufacturing plants.

Foxconn still has not provided an official count of how many employees are infected.

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Yuan, a worker from the plant who spoke to Reuters, said that he and his coworkers were locked inside the factory on Oct. 14.

“We had to do endless PCR tests, and after about 10 days, we had to wear N95 masks, and were given traditional Chinese medicine,” Yuan said.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Visitors seen trapped inside Shanghai Disneyland after lockdown imposed'
COVID-19: Visitors seen trapped inside Shanghai Disneyland after lockdown imposed

Whenever a positive or suspected case was found at a production line, there would be a public broadcast, but work would continue, he told Reuters.

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“People would be called away in the middle of work, and if they don’t show up the next day, that would mean they had been taken away,” Yuan said.

After a number of days of lock-in, Yuan decided to join others who were fleeing and climbed the fences Saturday night to escape the complex, he said. He and others feared that the COVID-19 outbreak within the facility was spreading, though their employers gave them few details on the situation.

On Sunday afternoon, Foxconn issued a statement saying they were allowing workers to leave the plant if they chose to and they would support those wanting to return home by organizing transportation to external quarantine sites.

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Analyst Ivan Lam with Counterpoint told CNN that between 10 to 30 per cent of iPhone 14 production could be affected in the near term if the situation at the Zhengzhou plant is not brought under control. He estimates that the Zhengzhou campus accounts for up to 85 per cent of all iPhone production.

In a statement made on Tuesday, Foxconn announced that it was quadrupling the daily bonuses for workers who stayed at the plant this month.

— With files from Reuters

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