Workers exit Zhengzhou iPhone factory amid COVID curbs

HONG KONG — Workers assembling Apple Inc.’s new iPhone have left their factory in north China to avoid COVID-19 curbs after some colleagues were quarantined following a virus outbreak.

Videos circulating on Chinese social media platforms showed people believed to be Foxconn workers climbing fences and walking down a street laden with their belongings.

The scenes underscore growing public dissatisfaction with China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, under which the government is trying to stamp out outbreaks by imposing strict testing, isolation and lockdown measures when infections are detected.

Outbreaks have led to entire cities being locked down. In the latest wave of infections, Shanghai Disney Resort said Monday it would close indefinitely from Monday “to meet the needs of pandemic prevention and control.”

In an online statement, the park apologized for the inconvenience and said it would issue refunds or exchanges to those affected by its closure.

The Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, Henan province, can accommodate up to 350,000 workers and is one of the largest factories in China, assembling products for Apple Inc., including the latest iPhone 14 devices.

Not all videos showing workers allegedly leaving the facility could be verified. It was unclear if the workers who left the facility had fled or if they were allowed to leave.

Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Volunteers from nearby villages distributed food and drink to Foxconn workers. One of these volunteers, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Zhang, for privacy reasons, was assigned to distribute relief supplies that his village in Xingyang County had prepared. He said that the people featured in a video he uploaded to short video sharing site Douyin are Foxconn workers because that is the road they would have to take when leaving the facility.

It was unclear how many people are currently employed at the Zhengzhou factory, how many of them have left and how many have been affected by the factory’s COVID-19 curbs.

Earlier this week, media reports said the factory had implemented a “closed system” that largely limits workers to movements between their homes and the factory.

According to local media reports, Foxconn employees complained about poor food quality and a lack of medical care for those who tested positive, amid concerns that infections could spread. The company denied rumors that 20,000 people at the plant had been infected with COVID-19.

Cities near Zhengzhou have urged Foxconn workers to report to local authorities if they plan to return to their hometowns to allow for proper isolation measures to be prepared.

Posts on the Zhengzhou government’s public WeChat account said Foxconn issued notices to workers at the factory on Sunday, pledging to ensure the safety, legitimate rights and incomes of those who stayed.

A day after videos of workers walking out of the factory circulated, Foxconn and several local governments arranged transportation for workers who decided to return home. It wasn’t clear how much choice they had on the matter.

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

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