China expands lockdowns as COVID-19 cases hit daily record

China expands lockdowns as COVID-19 cases hit daily record

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

Residents of eight districts in Zhengzhou, which together have a population of 6.6 million, were told to stay at home for five days from Thursday except to buy food or seek treatment. Daily mass testing has been ordered in what the city government has called a “war of annihilation” against the virus.

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

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

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 number of cases and deaths is relatively low compared to the United States and other countries, China’s ruling Communist Party remains committed to its “zero-COVID” strategy which aims to isolate every case and eliminate the virus completely while other governments end anti-virus controls and rely on vaccinations and immunity from past infections to prevent death and serious illness.

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

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

Beijing this week opened a hospital at an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a case of the virus was discovered there. The capital has previously closed shopping malls and office buildings and suspended access to some apartment complexes.

The tightening came after the Communist Party announced measures this month to try to reduce disruption 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,” in which workers live in their factories without outside contact.

Economic growth rebounded to 3.9% from a year earlier in the three months to September, from 2.2% in the first half. But activity was already beginning to fall back and growth for the year is expected to be well below the government’s target of 5.5%.

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill iPhone 14 orders after thousands of workers left the Zhengzhou factory last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.

Taiwan-based Foxconn said its contractual obligation regarding payments “has always been fulfilled”.

The company denied what it said were online comments that employees infected with the virus were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou plant. He said the facilities were sanitized and passed government checks before employees moved in.

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