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China extends lockdowns as COVID-19 cases hit daily record

BEIJING– Pandemic lockdowns are expanding across China, including in a city where factory workers clashed with police this week, as the number of COVID-19 cases hits a daily record.

Residents of eight districts of Zhengzhou, home to 6.6 million people, were told to stay at home for five days from Thursday, except to buy food or receive medical treatment. Daily mass testing was ordered in what the city government called a “war of annihilation” against the virus.

During clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, Zhengzhou police beat workers protesting a pay dispute at Apple’s biggest iPhone factory, located in an industrial zone near the city. Foxconn, the Taiwan-based factory owner, apologized Thursday for what it called “an input error in the computer system” and said it would ensure pay is the same as agreed and on official hiring posters. .

In the previous 24 hours, the number of new COVID cases increased by 31,444, the National Health Commission said on Thursday. That is the highest daily number since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

The number of daily cases has been constantly increasing. This week, authorities reported China’s first COVID-19 deaths in six months, bringing the total to 5,232.

While the number of cases and deaths is relatively low compared to the US and other countries, China’s ruling Communist Party remains committed to a “zero COVID” strategy that aims to isolate each case and eliminate the virus. completely. Most other governments have ended virus checks and now rely on vaccinations and immunity from past infections to help prevent death and serious illness.

Businesses and residential communities from the manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north are under various forms of lockdowns, measures that particularly affect blue-collar migrant workers. In many cases, residents say the restrictions go beyond what the national government allows.

Guangzhou suspended access to its Baiyun district of 3.7 million people on Monday, while residents of some areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, were told to stay at home. while mass testing is underway.

Beijing opened a hospital in an exhibition center. He suspended access to the Beijing University of International Studies after a virus case was found there. Some shopping malls and office buildings were closed, and access to some apartment complexes was blocked.

Suggesting some of those measures could be at least semi-permanent, workers erected a 7-foot-high fence around old low-rise brick apartment buildings in Beijing’s Hongmiao Beili community.

Half a dozen people in hazmat suits guarded the entrance to a lane through the community, standing behind waist-high steel barriers typically used for crowd control.

Authorities had announced measures to try to reduce disruptions to pandemic controls by shortening quarantines and making other changes. Some Chinese have expressed their frustration and confusion over the apparent policy changes on social media.

While China’s borders remain largely closed, the government has been “optimizing and facilitating the exit and entry process for executives and specialized personnel of multinational companies and foreign companies and their family members in China,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said. Foreign Affairs Mao Ning at a daily press conference. Thursday.

Mao said China will continue to improve various COVID protocols “according to the specific and science-based principles” to help facilitate travel and cooperation and exchanges with other countries.

A key issue is concern about people’s vulnerability to the virus. Few Chinese have contracted COVID or even been exposed to the virus, so only a small percentage are thought to have built up effective levels of antibodies to fight the virus.

China has an overall coronavirus vaccination rate of more than 92%, with most people having received at least one dose. But far fewer older Chinese, particularly those over 80, have gotten the shots.

The government is trying to contain the latest wave of outbreaks without shutting down factories and the rest of its economy as it did in early 2020. One tactic is to use “closed-loop management,” under which workers live in their factories. No external contacts. .

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of employees walked out of the factory in Zhengzhou last month over complaints about conditions. unsafe jobs.

The protests on Tuesday and Wednesday were fueled by disagreements over pay for workers who were recruited to replace those who left. The workers fought with the police and some were beaten. Some were arrested.

Foxconn denied what it said were online comments that employees with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. He said the facility was disinfected and passed government checks before employees moved in.

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