Inside a Chinese iPhone Plant, Foxconn Grapples With Covid Chaos

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The group is desperate to contain the week-long Covid-19 outbreak at an iPhone factory in central China, trying to calm nervous and frustrated workers during a critical period for phone orders.

At Foxconn’s headquarters is Zhengzhou, Apple’s largest assembly site in the world The Inc

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iPhones, hundreds of thousands of users have been put under a closed system for almost two weeks. They are often closed from the outside world, only allowed to move between residences or buildings and production lines.

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Many said they were locked in their homes for days and the distribution of food and other essentials was chaotic. Many others say they are too scared to continue working because of the risk of infection.

Foxconn on Wednesday denied what it said were internet rumors that 20,000 cases had been identified on the site and said that for the “small number of workers affected by the disease,” it was providing essential supplies.

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Foxconn said on Friday in a message to its employees on WeChat, “The sudden explosion has disrupted our lives,

a social-media platform. “Progress in the system in disease prevention and production depends on all the efforts of the workers,” he said. He outlined plans to ensure proper nutrition and mental health support and promised to respond to staff concerns.

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Asked about employee comments about the situation at the site, Foxconn did not respond. Earlier when asked about the situation, the company referred to its Wednesday statement and Friday message on WeChat.

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“It’s too scary to go to work,” a 21-year-old worker who was confined to his home told the Wall Street Journal, saying he was skeptical of the company’s claims that there was a low level of illness and the company. .

The crisis at Foxconn is the latest example of the economic and social toll of China’s epidemic control policies — which include rapid lockdowns and purges, mass testing and mandatory restrictions to crush the virus when it emerges. . Although Beijing says that the virus is too strong to allow the ease of the zero-Covid policy, businesses will have to convince their employees that there is little risk of coming to work when there are signs of outbreaks.

The attack in Zhengzhou – 95 cases recorded in the city in the last four days – began in early October, as people from other parts of the country returned from a week-long national holiday. At the first sign of Covid in the city, officials locked down some areas and began extensive testing to eradicate the virus before it entered Zhengzhou’s 12.7 million residents. As a major employer, Foxconn joined the campaign.

When more diseases appeared at Foxconn in the middle of the month, the company wanted to maintain production by creating a “bubble” around its work to reduce the risk of exposure, a common practice among executives Chinese manufacturers continue their business during the outbreak of the country.

Foxconn says it employs up to 300,000 workers in Zhengzhou. Analysts estimate that the company produces half or more of Apple’s phones domestically, making it necessary to deliver iPhones to consumers, including for the winter holidays. comes when the demand for phones often spikes.

Foxconn, in a statement on Wednesday, said that production at the site is “stable” and that it is sticking to its operating plan for the current quarter as the impact from the outbreak can be controlled. Quarterly results are expected Nov. 10.

Apple, in its quarterly release, did not mention Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant. Its chief financial officer said that supply for the new iPhone 14 Pro model was limited due to high demand.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment about the situation at the Foxconn plant.

Some workers interviewed by the Journal said many colleagues have refused to return to the production line. Others have simply left, they said, sometimes leaving behind their belongings.

On Sunday, the state newspaper in Henan published official announcements from various parts of the province welcoming their people back, setting out anti-isolation measures.

Over the weekend, a geotagged video near the Foxconn site went viral on Chinese social media platforms, recording groups of people walking along highways or in agricultural fields carrying bags and backpack. Other footage showed an airport station set up by local residents handing out bottles of water in front of hand-written signs in support of Foxconn workers who had moved home.

Earlier on Friday, the company had posted a video on WeChat encouraging people to return to work. “The company needs people,” said a woman in a video of workers getting out of a car. “If no one comes to work, how will the company run?”

Another Foxconn employee said many of his 12-strong team working night shifts had been taken to quarantine centers or refused to return to work. Every night, he said, he sees workers in protective gear waiting for a bus to transport him.

“I don’t know who around me is a good case,” said the worker, who was confined to his house for a few days. “I’d rather be in the inn.”

With many people stuck in their homes, sent to quarantine centers or out of work, production equipment and some assembly lines have slowed, two of the workers said.

Foxconn has created incentives to maintain production, according to a company announcement Friday.

Anyone who turns up for work will get free food and daily allowance, he said. Those who turn to work every day from Oct. 26 to Nov. 11 will receive a prize of 1,500 yuan, or about $200.

A 21-year-old employee who spoke to the Journal and who works on an assembly line producing older iPhone models, said he has been locked out of his home since Oct. 17, along with thousands of others.

In the days that followed, food deliveries were delayed, and garbage was left in the garage, piling up on the floor where many areas were locked. residence, he said.

The daughter of one worker said her mother was put in a room where some tested positive. Some other employees made similar complaints.

About 10 days ago, nearly 300 workers from Foxconn suppliers were told to leave their homes and sleep in the office, one of the they said.

In the photo he shares with the Journal, people are sleeping on beds and pillows placed on steel frames, under white fluorescent lights suspended from the hangar-like roof. Sanitation has become a problem, he said. Still, he said he shouldn’t have left the tree—that he had nowhere to go if he did.

“Where shall I go? Barriers are everywhere,” he said. “There are people in charge everywhere.”

Trade in epidemics

Write that Wenxin Fan at [email protected] and Selina Cheng at [email protected]

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