Ng Han Guan/AP
BEIJING — Pandemic lockdowns are growing across China, including in a city where factory workers clashed with police this week as the number of COVID-19 cases hit a daily record.
Residents of eight districts of Zhengzhou, home to 6.6 million people, were told to stay at home for five days from Thursday except to buy food or seek treatment. Daily mass testing has been ordered in what the city government has called a “war of annihilation” against the virus.
In clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, Zhengzhou police beat workers protesting a pay dispute at Apple’s biggest iPhone factory, located in an industrial zone near the city. Foxconn, the Taiwan-based factory owner, apologized on Thursday for what it called “an input error in the computer system” and said it would guarantee the salary was the same as agreed. and in official recruitment posters.
In the past 24 hours, the number of new COVID cases has increased by 31,444, the National Health Commission said on Thursday. It is the highest daily figure since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The daily workload has steadily increased. This week, authorities reported China’s first COVID-19 deaths in six months, bringing the total to 5,232.
While the number of cases and deaths is relatively low compared to the United States and other countries, China’s ruling Communist Party remains committed to a “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to isolate every case and eliminate the virus completely. Most other governments have ended virus checks and now rely on vaccinations and immunity from past infections to help prevent death and serious illness.
Businesses and residential communities from the manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north are under various forms of lockdown, measures that particularly affect blue-collar migrant workers. In many cases, residents say the restrictions go beyond what the national government allows.
Guangzhou on Monday suspended access to its Baiyun district of 3.7 million people, while residents of certain areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, were told to stay at home while mass testing is carried out.
Beijing has opened a hospital in an exhibition center. He suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a case of the virus was discovered there. Some malls and office buildings have been closed and access has been blocked to some apartment complexes.
Suggesting that some of these measures could be at least semi-permanent, workers were erecting a 2-meter (7-foot) high fence around aging low-rise brick apartment buildings in Beijing’s Hongmiao Beili community.
Half a dozen people in hazmat suits occupied the entrance to a lane through the community, standing behind waist-high steel barriers typically used for crowd control.
Authorities had announced measures to try to reduce disruption to pandemic controls by shortening quarantines and making other changes. Some Chinese have expressed frustration and confusion over the apparent political flip-flops on social media.
While China’s borders remain largely closed, the government has “optimized and facilitated the exit and entry process for executives and specialized personnel of multinational enterprises and foreign companies and their family members in China”, it said. said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning at a daily press conference. Thursday.
Mao said China will continue to improve various COVID protocols “according to scientific and targeted principles” to help facilitate travel, cooperation and exchanges with other countries.
A key issue is the concern about people’s vulnerability to the virus. Few Chinese have caught COVID or even been exposed to the virus, so only a small percentage are believed to have accumulated effective levels of anti-virus antibodies.
China has an overall coronavirus vaccination rate of over 92%, with most people having received at least one dose. But far fewer older Chinese — especially those over 80 — have been vaccinated.
The government is trying to contain the latest wave of epidemics without shutting down factories and the rest of its economy as it did in early 2020. One tactic is to use “closed-loop management”, in which workers live in their factories without external contacts. .
Foxconn, the world’s largest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill iPhone 14 orders after thousands of workers left the Zhengzhou factory last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.
Protests on Tuesday and Wednesday were prompted by disagreements over the payment of workers recruited to replace those who left. The workers fought with the police and some were beaten. Some have been arrested.
Foxconn denied what it said were online comments that employees infected with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou plant. He said the facilities were sanitized and passed government checks before employees moved in.