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Escape Foxconn: Workers Tell About Covid Chaos at iPhone Factory

Zhang Yao recalls the moment he realized that something had gone horribly wrong at the mega Apple factory in China.

Zhang Yao recalls the moment he realized something had gone horribly wrong at the mega-Apple factory in China, where he and hundreds of thousands of other workers were assembling iPhones and other high-end electronics.

In early October, executives suddenly warned him that 3,000 colleagues had been quarantined after someone at the factory tested positive for Covid-19.

“They told us not to take off our masks,” Zhang, speaking under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation, told AFP by phone.

What followed was a weeks-long ordeal, including food shortages and the ever-present fear of infection, before he finally escaped on Tuesday.

Zhang’s employer, Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn, has said it is facing a “prolonged battle” against infections and has imposed a “closed loop” bell around its sprawling campus in central China’s Zhengzhou city.

Local authorities closed the area around the major Apple supplier’s factory on Wednesday, but not before reports emerged of workers fleeing on foot and a lack of adequate medical care at the factory.

China is the last major economy committed to a zero-covid strategy, persevering with rapid lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines in an effort to stamp out emerging outbreaks.

But new variants have tested officials’ ability to quench flare-ups and dragged economic activity down with the threat of sudden disruptions.

– Despair –

Multiple workers have told stories of chaos and increasing disorganization in Foxconn’s complex of workshops and dormitories, which form a city-within-a-city near Zhengzhou airport.

Zhang told AFP that “positive tests and double lines (on antigen tests) had become a common occurrence” in his workshop before he left.

“Of course we were scared, it was so close to us.”

“People with a fever have no guarantee that they will receive medicine,” another Foxconn employee, a 30-year-old man who also wished to remain anonymous, told AFP.

“We are drowning,” he said.

Those who decided to retire were not offered meals in their dormitories, Zhang said, adding that some could survive on personal supplies of instant noodles.

Kai, an employee of the complex who gave an interview to the state-owned Sanlian Lifeweek, told Foxconn magazine’s “closed loop” that paths between dormitories and the factory were being closed, and complained that he was left to his own devices after being thrown into quarantine.

TikTok videos, located by AFP, showed piles of uncollected trash outside buildings in late October as workers wearing N95 masks squeezed into packed shuttle buses that took them from dormitories to their workstations.

A 27-year-old woman who worked at Foxconn and asked not to be named told AFP that a roommate who tested positive for Covid was sent back to her dorm room crying Thursday morning after deciding to resign while she was in quarantine. . .

“Now the three of us live in the same room: one a confirmed case and two of us test positive on the rapid test, still waiting for our nucleic acid test results,” the employee told AFP.

Many became so desperate late last month that they tried to walk back to their hometowns to bypass Covid conveyor belts.

As videos of people dragging their suitcases down highways and hitting hills spread on Chinese social media, authorities rushed inside to contain the damage.

Zhengzhou City Council said on Sunday it had arranged special buses to take workers back to their homes.

The surrounding Henan province has officially reported a spike of more than 600 Covid cases since early this week.

– Distrust –

When Zhang finally tried to leave the Foxconn campus on Tuesday, he found that the company had set up obstacle after obstacle.

“There were people with speakers advertising the latest Foxconn policy and saying there would be a 400 yuan ($55) bonus every day,” Zhang told AFP.

A crowd of employees gathered at an empty bus pick-up point, but were not let in.

People in hazmat suits, popularly known as “great whites” in China, claimed they had been sent by the city government.

“They were trying to persuade people to stay in Zhengzhou… and not go home,” Zhang said.

“But when we asked to see their work ID, they had nothing to show us, so we suspected they were actually from Foxconn.”

Foxconn pointed to the local government’s lockdown orders on Wednesday when AFP asked it if it was trying to prevent workers from leaving, with no further response.

The company had said on Sunday it was “offering employees three free meals a day” and was working with the government to arrange transportation home.

Finally, the mob of hapless workers that had gathered decided to take matters into their own hands and walked more than seven kilometers to the nearest freeway ramp.

There, more people claiming to be government officials begged the employees to wait for the bus.

The crowd had no choice, for the road was blocked.

The buses finally arrived at 5 p.m. — nearly nine hours after Zhang began his attempt to arrange transportation.

“They tried to take us down,” he said.

Back in his hometown, Zhang is now awaiting the home quarantine period required by the local government.

“All I feel is that I have finally left Zhengzhou,” he told AFP.

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