HONG KONG – Workers who assemble Apple Inc.’s new iPhone have walked out of their factory in northern China to avoid COVID-19 curbs after some coworkers were quarantined following a virus outbreak.
Videos circulating on Chinese social media platforms showed people said to be Foxconn workers climbing over fences and walking down a road laden with their belongings.
The scenes underscore growing public discontent with China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, where the government seeks to stamp out outbreaks by implementing strict testing, isolation and lockdown measures where infections are detected.
Outbreaks have led to entire cities going into lockdown. In the latest wave of infections, Shanghai Disney Resort said Monday that it would close as of Monday for an indefinite amount of time “to follow the requirement of pandemic prevention and control.”
In an online notice, the park apologized for the inconvenience and said it would provide refunds or exchanges for those affected by its closure.
The Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, Henan province, can accommodate up to 350,000 workers and is one of the largest factories in China assembling products for Apple Inc., including its latest iPhone 14 devices.
Not all the videos that showed workers purportedly leaving the facility could be verified. It was unclear if the workers leaving the facility had escaped or if they were allowed to leave.
Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Volunteers from nearby villages put out food and drinks for the Foxconn workers. One such volunteer, who asked to be identified only by his surname Zhang out of privacy concerns, was put in charge of distributing supplies that his village in Xingyang county had prepared. He said that the people shown in a video he uploaded to the short-video platform Douyin were Foxconn workers because they would have to take that road if they were leaving the facility.
It was unclear how many people are currently employed at the Zhengzhou factory, how many of them have left and how many were affected by factory's COVID-19 curbs.
Earlier this week, media reports said the factory had implemented a “closed-loop” system largely restricting workers to movements between their residences and the plant.
Local media reports said that Foxconn workers complained of poor food quality and a lack of medical care for those who tested positive amid worries infections could be spreading. The company denied rumors that 20,000 people in the plant had been infected with COVID-19.
Cities near Zhengzhou have urged Foxconn workers to report to local authorities if they plan to return to their hometowns to allow preparation of appropriate isolation measures.
Posts on the Zhengzhou government’s public WeChat account said Foxconn issued notices Sunday to workers at the factory, pledging to ensure the safety, legitimate rights and incomes of those who stayed.
A day after the videos circulated of workers leaving the factory on foot, Foxconn and several local governments arranged transportation for employees choosing to return home. It wasn't clear how much choice they were given in the matter.
AP video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.