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Workers are fleeing China’s Covid restrictions at Foxconn’s huge iPhone factory

Workers have staged a walkout this weekend from the world’s largest iPhone factory, amid a coronavirus outbreak at the Foxconn plant in central China.

The huge complex in the city of Zhengzhou, which workers say produces Apple’s iPhone 14, is the latest manufacturing center to be stymied by President Xi Jinping’s tough zero-Covid policy.

Five workers who spoke to the Financial Times said the situation at the plant had gradually worsened as Covid continued to spread, with food and medical supplies running low and workers locked in dormitories for quarantine ̵[ads1]1; leading to hundreds of employees fled on foot across. the weekend.

“There was total chaos in the dormitories,” said a 22-year-old worker named Xia. “We jumped over a plastic fence and a metal fence to get out of the campus,” he said.

Tens of thousands of workers typically assemble iPhones at the factory, run by contract manufacturer Foxconn, before shipping the Apple smartphones to consumers around the world. The plant shipped $32 billion worth of electronics abroad and was China’s third-largest exporter in 2019, according to a think tank linked to the country’s commerce ministry.

Located in Henan, China’s most populous province, the Foxconn plant has long drawn young workers from villages across the region, with local officials helping to find and recruit workers.

But on Sunday, local authorities scrambled to organize buses to bring those workers home and into centralized quarantine, after scenes of workers tramping down the highway with bags flooded Chinese social media. The FT saw hundreds of workers registering to demand a ride home in social media groups.

“I will never go back to Foxconn,” said a worker surnamed Xu, who escaped from the plant at 2 a.m. Sunday. “They don’t have humanity there.” He and four friends were on the highway, walking more than 200 km to their homes in Xin’an County, Henan, he said.

Authorities in Zhengzhou have partially locked down the city for 10 minutes after dozens of Covid cases were found. Unlike the rest of the world, China continues to use lockdowns, strict quarantines and mass testing in an attempt to eradicate the coronavirus.

Officials in Zhengzhou said late Sunday that they would begin “point-to-point return of employees to their hometowns” in a social media post. “Foxconn will make every effort to ensure a smooth and safe return home for all Foxconn employees,” the post said.

The city also published a statement from Foxconn, promising to “improve living and working conditions” for all employees willing to stay.

Workers said the area around the Foxconn plant had been locked down for days, with public transport shut down and many roads blocked off. They said Foxconn had tightly controlled movement and used daily Covid tests and quarantines for Covid-positive workers to try to contain the outbreak while continuing iPhone production.

“My employee was taken into quarantine. My elder sister is locked in her dormitory,” said Cao Zhiqiang, an assembly line worker at the plant. “My home is too far to run to, so I’m stuck here.”

Cao said that until the weekend, his production line had continued to churn out iPhones, and he expected to go to work in the morning.

Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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