China puts under lockdown the city where iPhones are manufactured

Lockdown is justified by the increase in new cases of covid in Zhengzhou, but it will also allow better control of protests by workers at Foxconn, the world’s largest supplier to Apple

Chinese authorities have decreed five days of 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 given for imposing the confinement is the rise in the number of new cases of covid-19 in the city. The information was provided by Bloomberg and France-Presse agencies.

Starting next midnight (local time), and at least until the 29th, the main urban areas of Zhengzhou will be under “mobility control”, writes Bloomberg. 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 repress protests by Foxconn workers. The revolt began last month, due to the poor working conditions to which the workers are subject since they were forced to live inside the factory.

In mid-October, several outbreaks of covid were detected among the approximately 200,000 workers at the factory, where around 70% of all Iphones sold in the world are assembled. The authorities then decided to impose “bubble” operation, forcing workers to live 24 hours a day inside the factory facilities. The terrible working conditions to which they were subjected – no hygiene conditions, no privacy, no medical care and poorly fed – ended up causing protests, first, and mass flight of workers, later.

At the beginning of this month, hundreds of workers broke down doors and jumped over fences to escape the prison to which they were subjected. The news and images of that exodus, and of the protests inside the factory, ended up traveling the world.

In a desperate attempt to stem the flight of workers, Foxconn promised to pay bonuses to employees who stayed, and to new ones who were hired. Yesterday, the breach of that promise was the last straw that made thousands of workers return to the protests: they broke out of confinement, knocked down barriers, destroyed windows and surveillance cameras, and got involved in confrontations with dozens of law enforcement agents.

The images of yesterday’s clashes, which will have lasted throughout the day, were released on Chinese video sharing platforms, before being erased by the authorities, who used all the censorship power of the Chinese state apparatus to make these images disappear. testimonials. Despite this effort, videos of clashes between workers and the police continued to be shared on social media, some of them filmed at night.

Foxconn pays to get rid of troubled workers

In a new attempt at damage control, Foxconn assumed yesterday an alleged “computer error”, and acknowledged that workers hired in recent weeks are entitled to a bonus payment, which will be done immediately. The factory apologized for the “lapse”, which was at the origin of yesterday’s serious conflicts between workers and authorities.

In addition, Foxconn offered to pay compensation to new workers who want to leave the company immediately, also offering them transport by bus away from the manufacturing facilities.

According to the South China Morning Post, each newly hired worker who wants to leave receives a reckoning equivalent to 1,400 euros if he wants to leave the factory immediately. A way to remove the new workers from the scene, who were allegedly the ones who started yesterday’s conflicts, the most serious recorded so far at Foxconn.

The willingness to let workers go – and even to pay them to leave – clashes with the efforts of recent weeks to hire more workers. According to China Newsweek magazine, aligned 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 the production of Iphones. The labor shortage is such that local CCP structures have mobilized to help recruit workers, and there has even been an appeal 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 workers, as a considerable part of the factory area is occupied with quarantine facilities, where employees with covid-19 are hospitalized.

Restrictions tighten across the country

All over China, the number of new cases of covid is growing, in what could be the most serious wave of the pandemic in the country. Yesterday, a total of 29,157 cases were registered across the country – a low figure taking into account the Chinese population (1.4 billion), but too high according to the official “covid zero” policy, which aims to eradicate the virus. virus, something the WHO considers unsustainable. The numbers are approaching April values, when the peak of infections was recorded.

Parts of Beijing and other cities, such as Guangzhou, are under tight mobility restrictions, and entry into the capital is only allowed to those who have completed three consecutive days of covid tests with a negative result.

Shopping centers, parks and museums are closed in Beijing, and in many districts of the city there are no classes, restaurants only serve take-out and public transport runs empty. There is no record of clashes between citizens and authorities in Beijing, but in other parts of the country there are protests against this new wave of draconian measures.

In Guangzhou, a major industrial hub, millions of people have been sent home after some unrest over recently imposed containment measures. Also Shanghai, which was under strict lockdown for two months in the spring, is experiencing an increase in cases, which has already led to the cancellation of the motor show. Some places in the city have been closed, and the authorities are imposing mandatory tests on the population. Chongqing, in the southwest, is also on the verge of being under lockdown.

Hundreds with nowhere to go in Guangzhou

In the south, in Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, there are reports of hundreds of workers wandering around with nowhere to go: they have been released from the quarantine centers where they spent several days or weeks, but the authorities are not letting them return to their homes in the district. residential area of ​​Haizhu, one of the epicenters of the current wave.

Local authorities claim that it will still take some time for the covid outbreaks to be under control, and recommend workers (mostly displaced from other areas 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, “with nowhere to go, migrants 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 being dragged down by the insistence on the zero covid policy (in addition to the adverse external context, with the slowdown of the global economy in a scenario of high inflation and war in Europe), the IMF yesterday warned Beijing of the need to “ recalibrate” its strategy to combat the pandemic.

“While the zero covid strategy has become more agile over time, the combination of more contagious covid variants and persistent gaps in vaccines has led to the need for more frequent confinements, 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 must be well prepared and include increasing the pace of vaccines and maintaining them at a high level, to ensure that protection is preserved”, added Gopinath.

The analysis released by the IMF outlines a negative picture for the Chinese economy, whose GDP is expected to have the worst performance this year in four decades. The management of the coronavirus pandemic, the collapse of the real estate market and the retraction in external demand, due to the global slowdown, were identified by the IMF as the biggest risks that the Chinese economy faces immediately.