An epidemic control worker wears a protective suit as he watches workers erect a metal barrier fence outside a community under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Beijing, China (Getty Images)
Eight districts of the Covid-19-hit Chinese province of Zhengzhou have been told to stay indoors for five days beginning today (24 November) due to a surge in cases. The government has said its 6.6 million residents would be allowed to buy food or get medical treatment, despite recent clashes this week where local police were seen to assault workers over a pay dispute at Apple’s largest iPhone factory.
Local authorities in the region said they would attempt to tackle the recent increase in cases through a coordinated “war of annihilation” for the next five days, whilst Apple’s manufacturer, Foxconn, promised to increase subsidies for employees in a bid to quash further violence. The company is under fire after employees reported poor work conditions and excessive force during a Covid-19 lockdown, which prompted thousands of workers to flee the vicinity earlier this month.
How many Covid-19 cases are there in China?
In the previous 24 hours, the number of new Covid cases has reportedly risen by 31,444, the National Health Commission said. This exceeds the previous peak in April when Shanghai was in a city-wide lockdown that would last two months. It is also the highest daily figure since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The city of Guangzhou in Guangdong is thought to be the worst affected area, with an additional 1,645 confirmed cases since the previous day, and 15,528 cases overall, according to Chinese news agency Sina. Guangzhou suspended access on Monday (21 November) to its Baiyun district of 3.7 million residents, while residents of some areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million people south-west of Beijing, were told to stay at home while mass testing takes place. Officials in the Chinese capital said proof of a negative coronavirus test within the previous 48 hours is now required to enter shopping centres, hotels, government buildings and factories.
Workers were seen to be installing a two-metre-high fence around the ancient, low-rise brick apartment structures in Beijing’s Hongmiao Beili neighbourhood. A half-dozen people in hazmat suits stood behind waist-high steel barriers normally used for crowd control at the entrance to a lane that went through the hamlet.
At the same time, Apple made its first public comments since violence erupted at the Zhengzhou plant. “We have Apple team members on the ground at our supplier Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility”, the US company said in a statement. “We are reviewing the situation and working closely with Foxconn to ensure their employees’ concerns are addressed.” Foxconn has been offering $1,400 or 10,000 yuan to workers who want to leave, trying to appease angry new hires who played a central role in protests this week.
The country’s Covid-19 case load has remained small by global standards, and some believe the strict pandemic restrictions are holding back the world’s second largest economy and are increasingly out of sync with the rest of the world. Whilst the daily caseload has been steadily increasing, the authorities reported its first death in six months, bringing the total to 5,232.
There has also been growing frustration, with some Chinese social media users expressing anger and confusion over the new measures. At the same time, there has been a rare public escalation of aggrieved workers at the iPhone factory. Foxconn, based in Taiwan, said its contractual obligations for payments had “always been fulfilled” and denied comments online that employees with the virus had been housed with other workers in dormitories.
Foxconn told Chinese media Yicai: "Before new colleagues move in, these dormitories are sanitised and approved by the government before new employees can be accommodated, and there is no mixing with the original employees."