China expands lockdowns amid "zero-COVID" policy

China is expanding lockdowns, including in a central city where factory workers clashed this week with police, as its number of COVID-19 cases hit a daily record.

People in eight districts of Zhengzhou with a total of 6.6 million residents were told to stay home for five days beginning Thursday, except to buy food or get medical treatment. Daily mass testing was ordered in what the city government called a “war of annihilation” against the virus.

During clashes Tuesday and Wednesday, Zhengzhou police beat workers protesting over a pay dispute at the biggest factory for Apple’s iPhone.

Across China, the number of new cases reported in the past 24 hours was 31,444, the National Health Commission said Thursday. That is the highest daily figure since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

China Daily Life Amid Global Pandemic
A man wears a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 as he crosses a nearly empty street in the Central Business District on Nov. 23, 2022 in Beijing, China. In an effort to try to bring rising cases under control, the local government last week closed most stores and restaurants for inside dining, switched schools to online studies, and asked people to work from home. 

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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

While the numbers of cases and deaths are relatively low compared to the U.S. and other countries, China’s ruling Communist Party remains committed to its “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to isolate every case and eliminate the virus entirely while other governments end anti-virus controls and rely on vaccinations and immunity from past infections to prevent deaths and serious illness.

Businesses and residential communities from the manufacturing center of Guangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north have also been placed under various forms of lockdown, measures that particularly affects blue-collar migrant workers. In many cases, residents say the restrictions go beyond what the national government allows.

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

Beijing this week opened a hospital in an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a virus case was found there. The capital earlier closed shopping malls and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment compounds.

The tightening came after the Communist party this month announced measures to try to reduce disruptions by shortening quarantines and making other changes.

The party 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. Its tactics include “closed-loop management,” under which workers live in their factories with no outside contact.

Economic growth rebounded to 3.9% over a year earlier in the three months ending in September, up from the first half’s 2.2%. But activity already was starting to fall back, and growth for the year is on track to fall well short of the government’s target of 5.5%.

Foxconn, the world’s biggest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of employees walked away from the factory in Zhengzhou last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.

Foxconn, based in Taiwan, said its contractual obligation about payments “has always been fulfilled.”

The company denied what it said were comments online that employees with the virus lived in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. It said facilities were disinfected and passed government checks before employees moved in.

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