China imposed a new series of Covid lockdowns, including in a city where workers at the world’s largest iPhone factory clashed with police this week, as a record daily rise in coronavirus cases tests its commitment to follow the rest of the world in easing pandemic restrictions. .
The National Health Commission reported 31,444 new cases of COVID-19 locally on Wednesday, the highest daily number since the virus 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, in central Henan Province, where clashes broke out on Tuesday and Wednesday between police and protesting workers from Foxconn’s iPhone factory, authorities announced a five-day lockdown of about 6 million people. Residents have been ordered to stay home and take daily PCR tests in a “war of extermination” against the virus.
One worker told AFP that the protests began over a row 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 continue operations after a handful of Covid cases forced it to close the facility, and has recruited new workers from across the country in favorable packages to replace the thousands who left last month. The employees said the protests began after the company changed their salary terms.
Online videos showed thousands of people wearing masks and facing lines of police in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and clubbed a protester after he grabbed a metal pole that was used to beat him.
Many employees accepted the company’s salaries and went home on Thursday. Some on social media said they had received bonuses of 10,000 yuan (£1,150) for terminating their contracts.
Foxconn on Thursday apologized for what it called an “input error in the computer system” and said it would ensure the pay was the same as promised on official recruitment posters. “Regarding the violent incident, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from occurring again,” the company said in a statement.
The strict implementation of China’s “dynamic zero COVID” policy for nearly three years has affected its economy and fueled frustration among the population.
On November 11, the government announced that it would scale back quarantines and ease other restrictions, a move seen as intended to ease economic pressures and quell public discontent. But at the same time, senior officials warned the cadres not to let their guard down.
Among the new measures, Guangzhou imposed a five-day lockdown in Baiyun District from Monday to curb the increase in the number of cases. Residents are 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 its residents to stop unnecessary movement and avoid going to public places, restaurants and public gatherings.
Shanghai has tightened restrictions on arrivals into the city. A notice on the city’s official WeChat account said people who travel to the city starting Thursday will be subject to a Covid test 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. A negative PCR test result within 48 hours is required for those seeking to enter public places such as shopping malls, hotels and government buildings. Schools across the city have moved to online classes.
Although case numbers are relatively low compared to global numbers, even small outbreaks in China often lead to lockdowns of regions and cities. This week, authorities reported China’s first Covid death in six months, bringing the total to 5,232.
“All the stalls were full of people and the prices were skyrocketing… no one was smiling,” a Zhengzhou resident who was among those scrambling to buy food at a market before the lockdown said on social media platform Sina Weibo.
A State Department spokesperson said that while China’s borders remain largely closed, the government has taken measures to ease the exit and entry process for foreign businessmen.
Additional coverage by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters.