Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

Pandemic lockdowns are spreading across China, including in a city where factory workers clashed with police this week, as the number of COVID-19 cases hits a daily record.

Residents of Zhengzhou’s eight districts, home to 6.6 million people, were told to stay at home for five days starting Thursday, except to buy food or get medical attention. Daily mass testing has been ordered in what city officials have called a “war of destruction” against the virus.

During clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, police in Zhengzhou beat workers protesting over a wage dispute at Apple’s largest iPhone factory, located in an industrial zone near the city. Foxconn, the owner of the Taiwan-based factory, apologized Thursday for what it called a “computer input error” and said it would guarantee the salary would be the same as agreed on official job boards.

In the previous 24 hours, the number of new cases of COVID increased by 31,444, the National Health Commission announced on Thursday. This is the highest daily figure since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

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The daily number of cases is constantly increasing. Authorities this week reported China’s first deaths from COVID-19 in six months, bringing the total to 5,232.

While the number of cases and deaths is relatively low compared to the US 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 entirely. Most other governments have ended anti-virus controls and now rely on vaccinations and immunity from past infections to prevent death and serious illness.

Business and residential communities from the manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north are under various forms of quarantine, measures that particularly hit blue-collar migrant workers. In many cases, residents say the restrictions go beyond what the national government allows.

Guangzhou suspended access to its Baiyun district of 3.7 million on Monday, while residents of some areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million people southwest of Beijing, were told to stay at home while mass testing was carried out.

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Beijing opened a hospital in the exhibition center. He suspended access to the University of International Studies in Beijing after a case of the virus was found there. Some shopping centers and office buildings are closed, and access to some residential areas is blocked.

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Suggesting that some of the measures could be at least semi-permanent, workers erected a two-meter (seven-foot) high fence around old, low-rise brick apartment buildings in Beijing’s Hongmiao Beili community.

A half-dozen people in protective suits entered the street that ran through the community, standing behind waist-high steel barriers normally used for crowd control.

The authorities have announced measures to try to reduce disruptions in the control of the pandemic by shortening the quarantine and introducing other changes. Some Chinese have expressed frustration and confusion at the apparent political flip-flops on social media.

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Although China’s borders are largely closed, the government has “optimized and facilitated the exit and entry process for executives and specialized staff of multinational companies and foreign companies and their family members in China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said at a daily press conference Thursday.

Mao said China will continue to improve various COVID protocols “in accordance with science-based and targeted principles” to help facilitate travel and cooperation and exchange with other countries.

A key issue is the concern of how vulnerable people are to the virus. Few Chinese have contracted or even been exposed to COVID, so only a small percentage are thought to have built up effective levels of antibodies to fight the virus.

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China has an overall vaccination rate against the coronavirus of more than 92 percent, with most people having received at least one dose. But far fewer elderly Chinese—especially those over 80—received the vaccine.

The government is trying to contain the latest wave of outbreaks without shutting down factories and the rest of its economy as it did in early 2020. One tactic is to use “closed-loop management,” whereby workers live in their factories without outside contact.

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fulfill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of employees walked out of a factory in Zhengzhou last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.

The protests on Tuesday and Wednesday were sparked by a disagreement over the payment of workers hired to replace those who left. The workers fought with the police, and some were beaten. Some were arrested.

Foxconn denied what it said were comments online that employees with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou plant. It said the facilities were disinfected and passed government checks before employees moved in.

© 2022 The Canadian Press