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Workers confined to quarters following COVID outbreak at Chinese iPhone factory

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Supplies of Apple Inc. iPhones are at risk after a Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. (Foxconn) factory in Zhengzhou, China, the largest iPhone factory in the world, was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite most of the world moving on from the COVID-19 pandemic, the one notable exception is China which has continued to enforce Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy. Nearly three years into the pandemic, mainland China has continued to be hit by lockdowns, even as far as guests at Shanghai Disneyland being locked in the park yesterday following a positive COVID test.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Foxconn is scrambling to contain a weekslong COVID-19 outbreak at the Zhengzhou factory with around three hundred thousand workers – that’s how big the factory is, being placed under a closed-loop system for almost two weeks. Under the COVID prevention system, workers are shut off from the outside world and can only move between their dorms or homes to the production line.

Some workers at the factory are said to have been confined to their quarters for days and there are also reported issues with the distribution of food and other essential items – something seen before during lockdowns in China. Many workers are said to be too scared to carry on working due to the risk of infection.

Officially, Foxconn is denying what it calls “online rumors” that over 20,000 cases had been detected at the factory, instead saying that only a “small number of employees” are affected by the pandemic and that it is providing necessary supplies. “A sudden outbreak disrupted our normal life,” Foxconn told employees on Friday. “An orderly progress in both pandemic prevention and output depends on the efforts of all staff.”

Officially, there have only been 95 cases detected in the whole of Zhengzhou, a city of 10 million people, over the past four days, but Chinese Communist Party figures regarding COVID cases are generally not believed, at least in the west.

Foxconn has worked through previous outbreaks, but various reports have workers fleeing the Zhengzhou factory, including climbing over fences to escape a strict lockdown. Exactly how much this will affect iPhone supply is difficult to ascertain, given it’s unclear how many workers continue to work in the factory.

Apple Insider reports that iPhone 14 Pro lead times have increased from 24 days seven weeks after launch to 31 days in week eight. While that is not a long blow-out, it’s early days. Unless Foxconn can address the situation, the lead times are likely to significantly increase in the coming weeks as supply drops relative to factory production.

Photo: Duncan Riley

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