Updated as of November 2, below the first vid:
Fresh off an unusual third term as President, Xi Jinping found his brutal zero COVID policy facing an uncharacteristically harsh light of publicity. The BBC zeroed in on Apple phone workers fleeing a targeted site:
Workers have broken out of Apple’s largest iPhone assembly factory in China after a Covid outbreak forced staff to lockdown at the workplace.
Video shared online showed about 10 people jumping a fence outside the plant, owned by manufacturer Foxconn, in the central city of Zhengzhou.Sam Hancock, “Apple: Chinese workers flee Covid lockdown at iPhone factory” at BBC News (October 30, 2022)
Taiwan-based Apple supplier Foxconn, has hundreds of thousands of workers in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, which has about 10 million residents. Foxconn says it will not try to stop workers from just leaving.
However, in footage shared on Chinese social media, and by the BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonnell, workers were allegedly filmed escaping from the grounds to begin lengthy walks back to their hometowns in a bid to avoid being caught on public transport.
One 22-year-old worker, surnamed Xia, told the Financial Times it was “total chaos in the dormitories” he and colleagues were being kept in. “We jumped a plastic fence and a metal fence to get out of the campus,” he added.Sam Hancock, “Apple: Chinese workers flee Covid lockdown at iPhone factory” at BBC News (October 30, 2022)
Part of the background is that, when some workers tested positive for COVID-19, workers were locked into their dormitories without enough food. It is difficult to know what is happening because when cell phone videos are placed on the government-controlled Chinese internet, they are quickly deleted. Some sources say that local residents are providing water, instant noodles, or breads to workers walking along the road.
This video shows a confrontation between the police and workers who are trying to leave (Chinese language only):
Update as of November 2, 2022: Our translator points to the incident that may have been a trigger for the informal mass evacuation: “Room 726,” where a number of workers were apparently found dead from undetermined causes:
FoxConn claims that Room 726 is a rumor and is locking down for seven days…
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of workers fled a Chinese manufacturing complex that accounts for 85% of iPhone assembly capacity. The mass migration, which began this weekend, called into question that country’s COVID-control measures and, more broadly, its reliability as a part of global supply chains…
To avoid detection, workers traveled through cropland by day. At night, they took to the roads. “Some people were walking amid wheat fields with their luggage, blankets, and quilts,” said a poster on WeChat, the popular Chinese social media platform. “I couldn’t help but feel sad.”
… every case of coronavirus in China is considered by the Communist Party as a threat to its rule. It does not matter whether disease-control measures make economic sense. This has become a matter of regime legitimacy.Gordon Chang, “Why Workers Are Fleeing China’s ‘IPhone’ City” at 1945 (November 2, 2022)
Update as of November 1, 2022: Our translator kindly offers some context for this video from watching news channels in Taiwan. The trouble started back in early October:
About as early as Oct. 8, Foxconn reported that some workers tested positive. The local health department told Foxconn to place those workers in a quarantine dormatory — and no further assistance was provided.
As time went by, more workers became sick, and rumors started spreading like wildfire. On the other hand, because this is a busy season for cell phone production companies, Foxconn hired an additional 30, 000 ~ 40,000 workers.
On the evening of Oct. 29 (time zones), “the Great Escape” or “the 1942″ (as local people called the event) started. The police attempt to prevent workers leaving, above, can be considered the start of the event.
Because there were many more escaping workers than police, eventually police withdrew. Workers walked out one after another throughout the entire night.
The translator acknowledges that because so much of the video is simply captured on site by cell phones, it can be hard to assemble an orderly story hereafter.
But this much we know: The Health QR codes of Foxconn workers were all converted to yellow. In the coding system, green = healthy, yellow = close contact, red = covid-positive. Tt means that those workers were not allowed to enter any public place, including any supermarket, restaurant etc. So they were not able to buy food or water. They were not allowed to board any public transit, including bus, train or airplane. All they could do was walk. For those truck drivers providing rides to workers: If they got caught, they had to pay a fine and their health QR code would turn to yellow. This means they would not be able to work.
From Neoscope, we also learn: “On October 19, Foxconn banned all dine-in catering, but later reversed the decision over the weekend, according to the BBC. “The government agreed to resume dine-in meals to improve the convenience and satisfaction of employees’ lives,” Foxconn said in a Sunday statement.” – Victor Tangermann (October 31, 2022)
Meanwhile, nearby cities are preparing for an influx of many of the 200,000 workers that FoxConn employs.
The translator notes, interpreting the video above: At 5:30 min, a man who was driving a car said several times, “Look these are Foxconn workers, they are only kids!” Then he stopped his car, and he said “This is an illuminated sticker. Put it on your jacket or luggage. Mind your safety; in a few more km, there is no street light. watch out and be careful.” It seems to me that he was handing out illuminated stickers to these workers.
10:30 min: Workers were walking on the highway at night. The two Chinese words mean “Run away.”
11:28 min: Images from a highway camera and map show where workers were seen walking on the highway.
11:48 min: You will see Foxconn workers walking on the road again.
15:00 min: Some people stopped and gave them water and food, or simply left water along the road.
Another video shows local help provided to fleeing workers, also worker conditions in the workers’ dormitories:
4:06 min: A woman put water and instant noodles by the roadside with a sign: “Foxconn worker, help yourself, be home safely.”
4:20 min: shows Foxconn living area (dormitory)
5:15 min: A worker shows his own dormitory, 8 male workers live together. Five of them left. This worker finished his shift, returned to his room, and found an empty place, He could not leave because his home town was too far to walk.
This video shows, at 2:58, a big flatbed truck giving Foxconn workers a ride:
Here’s another video of people giving the fleeing Foxconn workers food, water and rides:
Update: A new video:
Note from the translator:
1:40 min A driver refused to give a female worker a ride.
2:35 min A new fence is now up to prevent workers from running away.
3:14 min The man who shot this video says: “Look, this is the Foxconn Great Escape! So many, all escaped [from the factory], this is a social problem!”
3:27 min A walker: “I started walking from Foxconn at 10:00pm last night. It is 12:00 noon now, and I have not yet reached my home. I went with this lady. Good people gave us food and water along the way. They also let us charged our cell phones, so we can let our families know that we are safe. Thanks so much to those good people.
3:56 min Some workers have been caught and they were being disinfected by a health worker.
4:07 min A walker: “I am going home. Lots of people. We have walked for 4 hours, so many taking a break along the road. It has started raining now.”
4:53 min “It is 9:00 am, I am so tired, I am going to take a break.”
5:07 min Some people have started a fire for the workers to keep warm and cook food.
5:18 min Some fleeing workers have gotten caught and will most likely be sent to isolation.
13:09 min People have set up a station for workers to charge their cell phones as a free service — free water too.
14:00 min Across the road from the “cell phone charging station,” a driver gave workers a ride.
Narrator: This driver is running a great risk to help these young men and women.
Two local people in conversation are hear to say that they saw “endless” numbers of workers walking by this area all night.
Clearly, President Xi’s zero-COVID lockdowns are not popular and it may be coming to a head.
Update as of October 31, 2022 from the Liberty Times (Taiwan): Struggling Taiwan-owned FoxConn, caught in the middle, is said to have raised wages by 36%. It also has a backup production line on standby (which will also probably insist on the hazard pay.)
From other media:
The disruption at Foxconn is the latest example of the economic and societal toll from China’s rigid pandemic control policies—which include swift and sweeping lockdowns, mass testing and compulsory quarantines to crush the virus whenever it appears. While Beijing says the virus is too potent to allow any easing of its zero-Covid policy, businesses must convince their employees that there is little risk coming to work when there are signs of an outbreak.
Zhengzhou’s flare-up — 95 cases recorded in the city the past four days—began in early October, after people returned from other parts of the country from a one-week national holiday. At the first signs of Covid in the city, officials locked down some districts and began rounds of mass testing to stamp out the virus before it gained a foothold among Zhengzhou’s 12.7 million residents. As a major employer, Foxconn joined the campaign.Wenxin Fan and Selina Cheng, “Inside a Chinese iPhone Plant, Foxconn Grapples with Covid Chaos” at Wall Street Journal (October 30, 2022)
From the New York Times:
The lockdown in Zhengzhou began early last week when people in more than a dozen neighborhoods in the central Zhongyuan district, west of the Foxconn factory, were told to stay at home, according to an official notice. By Tuesday, images and videos of an outbreak inside Foxconn erupted on social media, sparking outrage from Chinese internet users who accused the company of failing to be transparent and downplaying the situation. The hashtag #ZhengzhouFoxconn briefly trended on Weibo, a popular social media platform in China.
But some online commenters were relieved that the news had finally emerged. Posts revealed shortages of food and other necessities inside workers’ dormitories.Amy Chang Chien, “China’s Latest Covid Lockdown Affects a Major iPhone Factory” at New York Times (October 27, 2022)
This from Twitter:
Workers have broken out of #Apple’s largest assembly site, escaping the Zero #Covid lockdown at Foxconn in #Zhengzhou. After sneaking out, they’re walking to home towns more than 100 kilometres away to beat the Covid app measures designed to control people and stop this. #China pic.twitter.com/NHjOjclAyU
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) October 30, 2022
You may also wish to read: China’s Covid Theater: It’s not really about the disease. Not exactly. As the Twentieth National Congress looms, the Chinese Communist Party does not want any COVID in Beijing. (Heather Zeiger)