China’s latest COVID-19 lockdown affects a major iPhone factory

A COVID-19 outbreak at the largest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, China, has forced some factory workers into quarantine, part of a citywide outbreak that has also caused shops and hotels near the factory to close.

Foxconn, a major manufacturer for Apple, confirmed in a statement to The New York Times on Thursday that a “small number of employees” had been asked to go into quarantine, but declined to comment on details of the outbreak.

Foxconn, headquartered in Taiwan, said efforts to contain the outbreak were “progressing steadily” and the quarantined workers were getting what they needed, including “material supplies, psychological comfort and responsive feedback.”

The outbreak comes at an inopportune time for Apple and Foxconn, which are now making the new iPhone 14. Foxconn said production and operations were “relatively stable” and output estimates for the three-month period from October to December “would remain unchanged.”

This part of the year is typically a critical time for iPhones. Last year, according to Apple, about a third of its $192 billion in iPhone sales were generated during the holiday season alone. The phone helped boost total sales by 8% in the last quarter, the company reported Thursday.

Zhengzhou, called “iPhone City” by the locals, is a city of 6 million in inland China. According to Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at TF International Securities, a financial services company, it is a central artery in Apple’s manufacturing of the iPhone, which produces about half of Apple’s global supply.

“What if this affects other Chinese cities where Apple has supply chains?” he said. “It’s definitely something Apple should consider in the medium to long term.”

Apple has moved production of some of its next-generation iPhones to India, a shift in response to growing awareness of heightened risks posed by concentrating manufacturing in a single country.

Zhengzhou City Council said neighborhoods in several of the city’s 12 districts are subject to restrictions in one way or another.

Those restrictions were imposed against the backdrop of last week’s Communist Party congress, which extended Xi Jinping’s leadership for a precedent-defying third term. Under Xi’s leadership, China has maintained a zero tolerance approach to the pandemic – marked by massive testing, strict lockdowns and quarantines – that has shut down entire cities over a handful of cases. Some people struggle to get food and some have been locked up in poorly constructed isolation facilities for weeks.

Gao Mingjun, 24, a resident of Zhengzhou, said her mother and aunt have been quarantined for weeks in their dormitories at the Foxconn Zhengzhou factory.

“I haven’t seen my mother in over a month,” she said, adding, “There are really no benefits, but they’re all shortcomings,” with the pandemic constraints.

While financial markets have signaled dismay at China’s economic slowdown, local governments have followed Xi’s roadmap closely. During his opening speech at the congress, Xi reiterated his commitment to China’s pandemic policy, describing the fight against COVID-19 as an “all-out war”.

Several other cities have experienced outbreaks in recent weeks, including Wuhan, where the virus first appeared; Lanzhou, Gansu Province; and Xining in northwestern Qinghai province. The latest viral wave, which reached 993 cases on Thursday, followed earlier outbreaks in early October in western Xinjiang and southern Hainan, among others, when the daily number reached 1,400 infections.

The lockdown in Zhengzhou began early last week when people in more than a dozen neighborhoods in Zhongyuan Central District, west of the Foxconn factory, were ordered to stay at home, according to an official report. On Tuesday, images and videos of an outbreak in Foxconn were posted on social media, sparking outrage from Chinese internet users who accused the company of not being transparent and downplaying the situation. The hashtag #ZhengzhouFoxconn briefly trended on Weibo, a popular social media platform in China.

But some online commentators were relieved that the news had finally come out. Reports revealed shortages of food and other necessities in workers’ dormitories.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.