Workers protest, beaten by the virus that hit the Chinese iPhone factory

BEIJING (AP) – Employees of the world’s largest Apple iPhone factory were beaten and arrested during protests over pay amid virus checks, according to witnesses and social media videos Wednesday, as tensions rise over Chinese efforts to fight off a new rise in infections.

Videos said to have been shot at the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou showed thousands of people in masks facing lines of policemen in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. Police kicked and hit a protester with sticks after he grabbed a metal pole that was used to beat him.

Frustration with restrictions in areas across China that have closed shops and offices and confined millions to their homes has escalated into protests. Videos on social media show residents tearing down barricades set up to enforce neighborhood closures.

The ruling Communist Party vowed this month to try to reduce disruptions by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But the party is sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy that aims to isolate each case as other governments ease controls and try to live with the virus.

Last month, thousands of employees walked out of the iPhone factory operated by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group over complaints of unsafe working conditions following virus cases.

A protest erupted on Tuesday over complaints that Foxconn changed conditions for new workers attracted by offers of higher wages, according to Li Sanshan, an employee.

Li said he quit a restaurant job in response to an advertisement promising 25,000 yuan ($3,500) for two months of work. Li, 28, said the workers were angry after being told they would have to work another two months for less pay to receive the 25,000 yuan.

“Foxconn released very tempting recruiting offers and workers from all parts of the country came in, only to find they were being duped,” Li said.

Foxconn, based in New Taipei City, Taiwan, said in a statement that “work allowance” has “always been fulfilled according to contractual obligations.”

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

“As regards any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” the company statement said.

Protests have flared up with the number and severity of outbreaks it has increased across China, prompting authorities in areas including Beijing, the capital, to close neighborhoods and impose other restrictions that residents say go beyond what the national government allows.

More than 253,000 cases have been reported in the past three weeks and the daily average is rising, the government said on Tuesday. This week, authorities reported the first COVID-19 deaths in China in six months.

On Wednesday, the government reported 28,883 cases found in the past 24 hours, including 26,242 without symptoms. Henan province, where Zhengzhou is the capital, has reported 851 in total.

The government will enforce its anti-COVID policy while “resolutely overcoming the mentality of paralysis and laxity,” said a spokesman for the National Health Commission, Mi Feng.

The Guangzhou city government, the site of the biggest outbreaks, announced it had opened 19 temporary hospitals with a total of nearly 70,000 beds for coronavirus patients. The city last week announced plans to build hospitals and quarantine facilities for 250,000 people.

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

Foxconn previously said its Zhengzhou factory uses “closed-loop management,” meaning employees live on the job with no outside contact.

The protest lasted until Wednesday morning when thousands of workers gathered outside dormitories and confronted factory security workers, according to Li.

Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.

A man who identified himself as the Communist Party secretary in charge of community services was shown in a video posted on social media platform Sina Weibo urging protesters to withdraw. He assured them that their requests would be met.

The Apple company. warned that deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model would be delayed due to factory health checks. The city government has suspended access to an industrial zone surrounding the factory, which Foxconn says employs 200,000 people.

News reports said the ruling party had ordered “grassroots cadres” to replace Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who left. The company did not respond to requests for confirmation and details about that deal.

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Zen Soo reported from Hong Kong. AP news aide Caroline Chen contributed.

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