Lockdown is justified by the rise in new cases of covid in Zhengzhou, but it will also allow better monitoring of protests by employees at Foxconn, Apple’s largest supplier in the world
The Chinese authorities have declared five days lockdown in almost the entire city of Zhengzhou, where there have been clashes between police and workers at Foxconn, the largest iPhone factory in the world. The reason for the imposition of the confinement is the rise in the number of new cases of covid-19 in the city. The information comes from the agencies Bloomberg and France-Presse.
Starting next midnight (local time), and at least until the 29th, Zhengzhou’s main urban areas will be under “mobility control,” Bloomberg writes. The expression used by the authorities is a euphemism for general confinement, without people being able to go outside.
The measure will also be an additional way to quell protests from Foxconn employees. The uprising began last month because of the poor working conditions workers have been subjected to since they were forced to live in the factory.
In mid-October, several outbreaks of covid were identified among the approximately 200,000 workers at the factory, where about 70% of all iPhones sold in the world are assembled. Authorities then decided to impose a “bubble” operation, forcing workers to live inside factory facilities 24 hours a day. The appalling working conditions they were subjected to – no sanitary conditions, no privacy, no medical care and malnourishment – first caused protests and later mass worker flights.
At the beginning of this month, hundreds of workers broke down doors and jumped fences to escape the prison they were subjected to. The news and images of that exodus, and of the factory protests, eventually spread around the world.
In a desperate effort to stem the flight of workers, Foxconn promised to pay bonuses to workers who stayed and to new workers who were hired. Yesterday, the violation of that promise was the last straw that caused thousands of workers to return to the protests: They broke out of prison, broke down barriers, smashed windows and surveillance cameras, and got involved in clashes with dozens of law enforcement officials.
Footage from yesterday’s clashes, which will have lasted all day, was released on Chinese video-sharing platforms before being erased by authorities, who used all the censorship power of China’s state apparatus to make this footage disappear. Despite these efforts, videos of clashes between workers and police continued to be shared on social media, some of which were filmed at night.
Foxconn pays to get rid of troubled employees
In another attempt at harm reduction, Foxconn yesterday ruled on an alleged “computer error” and acknowledged that employees hired in recent weeks are entitled to a bonus payment, which will be made immediately. The factory apologized for the “decay”, which was at the root of yesterday’s serious conflicts between workers and authorities.
In addition, Foxconn offered to pay compensation to new employees who want to leave the company immediately, and also offered them transportation by bus away from the production facilities.
According to the South China Morning Post, each newly hired worker who wants to leave will be fined 1,400 euros if he wants to leave the factory immediately. A way to remove from the scene the new workers who were said to be the ones who started yesterday’s conflicts, the most serious yet on record at Foxconn.
The willingness to let workers go — and even pay to leave — clashes with efforts in recent weeks to hire more workers. According to China Newsweek magazine, in line with the Chinese Communist Party (PCC), the Zhengzhou factory urgently needs to hire 100,000 workers to compensate those who left in recent weeks and rebalance iPhone production. The labor shortage is so great that local CCP structures have mobilized to help recruit workers, and calls have even been made for veterans to work for the Taiwanese manufacturer.
Despite this urgent need, Foxconn has suspended new hires as it no longer has space to accommodate new employees as a significant portion of the factory area is occupied with quarantine facilities, where workers are hospitalized with covid-19.
Restrictions are tightening across the country
Across China, the number of new cases of covid is growing in what could be the most serious wave of the pandemic in the country. A total of 29,157 cases were recorded across the country yesterday – a low figure considering China’s population (1.4 billion), but too high according to the official “covid zero” policy, which aims to eradicate the virus . the WHO considers this unsustainable. The figures are approaching the values of April, when the peak of infections was recorded.
Parts of Beijing and other cities, such as Guangzhou, have strict mobility restrictions, and access to the capital is only allowed for those who have passed three consecutive days of negative covid testing.
In Beijing, shopping malls, parks and museums are closed, and many areas of the city are closed to classes, restaurants serve take-out only, and public transportation is empty. There is no record of clashes between civilians and authorities in Beijing, but protests against this new wave of draconian measures have erupted in other parts of the country.
In Guangzhou, a major industrial center, millions of people have been sent home following some unrest over recently imposed containment measures. Shanghai, which was under strict lockdown for two months in the spring, is also struggling with an increase in cases, which has already led to the cancellation of the motor show. Some places in the city are closed and authorities are imposing mandatory tests on the population. Chongqing, in the southwest, is also about to go into lockdown.
Hundreds have nowhere to go in Guangzhou
In the south, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, there are reports that hundreds of workers are wandering with nowhere to go: they have been released from the quarantine centers where they spent several days or weeks, but the authorities are not allowing them to return to their homes in the Haizhu residential area, one of the epicenters of the current wave.
Local authorities say it will take some time to bring the covid outbreaks under control, and are recommending workers (mostly displaced from other parts of the country) to return to their regions of origin. But in these regions there are also restrictions on the entry of people, especially from one of the places most affected by this wave.
According to the newspaper SCMP, “migrants have nowhere to go and carry their backpacks while looking for temporary shelter under bridges, tunnels and viaducts or by the river, close to urban residential areas”.
IMF: It’s time to “recalibrate” anti-covid measures
With the Chinese economy dragged down by the push for zero covid policy (alongside the adverse external context, with the global economy slowing in a scenario of high inflation and war in Europe), the IMF warned Beijing yesterday against the need to “recalibrate” its strategy to fight the pandemic.
“While the zero covid strategy has become more flexible over time, the combination of more contagious covid variants and continued gaps in vaccines has led to the need for more frequent lockdowns, weighing on consumption and private investment, including in housing,” said Gita Gopinath, deputy director general of the International Monetary Fund. “In the future, a new recalibration of the covid strategy needs to be well prepared and, among other things, increase the pace of vaccines and keep them at a high level, to ensure protection is maintained,” added Gopinath.
The IMF’s analysis paints a negative picture for China’s economy, whose GDP this year is expected to post its worst performance in four decades. Managing the coronavirus pandemic, the collapse of the real estate market and the contraction in foreign demand due to the global slowdown were identified by the IMF as the biggest risks immediately facing the Chinese economy.