China/COVID: 6 million residents under lockdown after violent protests

Authorities in Zhengzhou, a city in central China that is home to a huge iPhone factory, ordered six million people under lockdown today after an outbreak of Covid-19 sparked violent protests at the factory.

Hundreds of workers demonstrated in front of the factory yesterday and were confronted by police, who were armed with globes and wearing white protective suits. Authorities in Zhengzhou then ordered a large-scale testing campaign in many areas of the city. These districts are placed under lockdown for five days from midnight tomorrow.

City center residents will no longer be able to leave this zone without a negative PCR test and permission from local authorities. At the same time, they are advised not to leave their homes, “unless it is necessary”.

These measures affect many districts, affecting nearly half of Zhengzhou’s residents. They do not cover the iPhone factory zone, where workers have already been under restrictions for several weeks.

A worker told AFP that the protests were sparked by a dispute over the amount of a bonus to be given to workers at the plant, which is owned by Taiwanese giant Foxconn and is a key external partner of Apple.

According to the worker, the premium would be from 3,000 to 30 yuan (from 400 to 4 euros), which caused strong dissatisfaction among the workers.

Technical error

Many workers have also resented the “chaotic” living conditions at the facility due to Covid restrictions, said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

Foxconn apologized today, saying a “technical error” in its payment system was the cause of the problem with premiums. The group said it “fully understands” the workers’ concerns.

“The company will also do its best to proactively address the concerns and reasonable requests of employees,” the Taiwanese company said.

Last month, workers, panicked by the unprecedented restrictions at the factory, had left the site on foot, with some of them complaining about the lack of organization there.

Under China’s strict “zero-cases-of-Covid” health policy, the slightest increase in cases results in entire cities being ‘locked down’ and people who test positive for the coronavirus being quarantined.

But this strategy is now causing weariness and disgust in much of the population. And the number of infections is skyrocketing.

The Ministry of Health announced today a new record number of people who tested positive within 24 hours, at 31,444 cases of local transmission – of which 27,517 were asymptomatic.

This number surpasses the previous record (29,317) recorded in mid-April, when the metropolis of Shanghai was under lockdown.

These numbers seem low in any case compared to the size of the Chinese population (1.4 billion inhabitants) and the records seen in Western countries.

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Temporary hospital wards

Several other major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, also imposed restrictions.

The capital now requires a negative PCR test of the past 48 hours to enter public places such as malls, hotels and administrative buildings.

Many schools turned again to distance learning. Most restaurants, bars and shops are closed.

The Guangzhou (south) manufacturing hub at the epicenter of the current Covid wave has set up temporary structures with hospital wards to receive patients.

The government had announced on November 11 an ‘improvement’ of the restrictions to deal with Covid, with the relaxation of several measures, including the reduction of quarantine time mainly for visitors from abroad.

But Shijiazhuang, a community near Beijing considered a pilot city to test this new reopening strategy, backed away from most of the easing measures – as did other communities.

“The road to reopening could be slow, costly and bumpy,” Ting Lu, an economist at Nomura Bank, said in a report.

China has not yet approved the use of the mRNA vaccines that are considered more effective. Another dark spot: only 85% of those over 60 had received two doses of vaccines by mid-August, according to health authorities.

Source: RES-MPE

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