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China expands lockdowns as COVID-19 cases hit daily record

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BEIJING (AP) — China is expanding lockdowns, including in a central city where factory workers clashed this week with police, as the number of new coronavirus cases reached a daily record.

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People in eight districts of Zhengzhou with a total population of 6.6 million have been asked to stay at home for five days starting Thursday, except to buy food or receive medical treatment. Daily mass testing has been ordered in what the city government has called a “war of annihilation” against the virus.

During clashes Tuesday and Wednesday, Zhengzhou police beat workers who were protesting a wage dispute at Apple’s largest iPhone factory.

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

The daily rate of reported cases is steadily increasing. This week, authorities reported China’s first COVID-19 death in six months, bringing the total number to 5,232.

While case and death numbers are 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 vaccines and immunity from previous infection. To prevent deaths and serious illnesses.

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.

On Monday, Guangzhou suspended access to the Baiyun district of 3.7 million people, while residents of some districts of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, were told to stay home while mass testing took place.

Beijing this week opened a hospital in an exhibition center and suspended access to Beijing International Studies University after a viral case was detected there. The capital earlier closed shopping malls and office buildings and suspended entry to some apartment complexes.

The tightening came after the Communist Party this month announced measures to try to reduce unrest by shortening quarantines and making other changes.

The party is trying to contain the latest wave of the outbreak 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 with no outside contact.

Economic growth rebounded to 3.9% year-on-year in the three months ending in September, up from 2.2% in the first half. But activity is already starting to ease, and growth for this year is on track to fall 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 orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of employees left the factory in Zhengzhou last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.

Taiwan-based Foxconn said its contractual obligation on payments was “always fulfilled”.

The company denied what it said were comments online that infected employees were living in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory. It said the facilities were disinfected and subjected to government checks before employees moved in.

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