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China expands lockdowns as COVID cases hit a daily record

BEIJING (AP) — Pandemic lockdowns are spreading across China, including in a city where workers clashed with police this week as the number of COVID-19 cases hit a daily record.

Residents in eight districts of Zhengzhou, home to 6.6 million people, were told to stay at home for five days starting Thursday, unless they were buying food or receiving medical treatment. Daily mass testing has been ordered in what the city government has called a “war of annihilation” against the virus.

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

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

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

Although the number of cases and deaths is relatively low compared to the United States and other countries, China’s ruling Communist Party remains committed to a “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to isolate every case and completely eradicate the virus.

Most other governments have ended control of the virus and now rely on vaccinations and immunity from previous 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 lockdown, measures that particularly affect 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 on Monday, while residents in some areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, were told to stay at home during testing in mass.

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

Suggesting that some of these measures could be at least semi-permanent, workers were building a 2m-high fence around old brick buildings in Beijing’s Hongmiao Beili community.

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

Authorities have announced steps to try to reduce disruptions to pandemic control by shortening quarantines and making other changes. Some Chinese have expressed frustration and confusion over apparent political flip-flops on social media.

While China’s borders remain largely closed, the government is “streamlining and facilitating the exit and entry process for executives and specialized staff of multinational and foreign companies and their family members in China,” the ministry spokesman said. conference. Thursday.

Mao said China will continue to improve various COVID protocols “in accordance with science-based and targeted principles” to facilitate travel, cooperation and exchanges with other countries.

A key issue is concern about how vulnerable people are to the virus. Few Chinese have contracted COVID or even been exposed to the virus, so only a small percentage are believed to have built up effective levels of antibodies against the virus.

China has an overall vaccination rate against the coronavirus of more than 92%, with most people receiving at least one dose. But far fewer elderly Chinese, especially those over 80, have received vaccines.

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,” where workers live in their factories without external contacts. . .

Foxconn, the world’s largest assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of workers walked out of its Zhengzhou factory last month following complaints of unfair working conditions.

The protests on Tuesday and Wednesday were sparked by disagreements over the payment of workers hired to replace those who left. The workers fought with the police and some were beaten. Some were arrested.

Foxconn denied what it claimed were online comments that employees with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. The facilities were said to have been sanitized and passed government inspections before employees moved in.

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