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Supply fears as China lockdown hits world’s largest iPhone factory

Chinese authorities have announced a seven-day coronavirus lockdown in the area around the world’s largest iPhone factory, stoking concern that production will be severely curtailed ahead of the Christmas period.

Foxconn’s plant in Zhengzhou, which employs about 200,000 people, produces the majority of Apple’s new phones, including the new iPhone 14.

It has been rocked by discontent over stringent measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, with workers fleeing the site over the weekend after complaining about their treatment and provisions via social media. Nearby cities have drawn up plans to isolate migrant workers fleeing to their home towns, to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone in central China said that from midday on Wednesday, it was placing the 415 sq km industrial park that hosts the plant under China’s lowest “static management” tier of lockdown until midday on 9 November.

An official statement said residents in the area, about 16 miles south-east of Zhengzhou, were barred from leaving home and must be PCR tested once a day. Public transport services are suspended and only approved vehicles are allowed on the roads. Other measures include the closure of offices, non-essential shops and services.

The statement said any violations of the rules would be “severely dealt with” by the police and urged people to cooperate to “score victory in this district’s struggle against the epidemic”.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, who recently secured an unprecedented third term as the Communist party chief at the 20th party congress, has insisted on a “zero Covid” policy and repeatedly called for “struggles” against political and other challenges.

An almost month-long lockdown in Zhengzhou had prompted complaints of arduous conditions, sometimes violent enforcement, inadequate medical care, and worsening mental health.

It has been the subject of national focus, particularly after hundreds of workers from Foxconn fled over fences from the factory’s “closed loop” quarantine system last week. On Tuesday, probably in response to criticisms, authorities announced the easing of restrictions but residents said controls remained tight and Foxconn said it had quadrupled bonuses on offer at the plant as it sought to retain staff.

Zhengzhou, the capital of the central province of Henan, has a population of about 12 million people. Zhengzhou health authorities reported 64 new cases and 294 asymptomatic new cases as of Tuesday.

On the social media platform Weibo, some questioned why restrictions remained in place, just one day after the supposed relaxation.

“Is everyone back to normal now? Are we back to work? Wasn’t the lockdown lifted yesterday? Is Foxconn under ‘static management’ also?” said one post. “Under what conditions will the lockdown end? These endless ‘static managements’, endless PCR tests … We don’t need to pay off our car loans and mortgages?” said another.

Before Wednesday’s announcement, Reuters reported, quoting an unnamed source, that the production of Apple’s iPhones at Zhengzhou could slump by as much as 30% next month due to tightening curbs but that Foxconn was trying to boost production at another factory in Shenzhen in South China to make up for the shortfall.

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