After being trapped for days in the massive facility in central China along with 200,000 workers, Yuan scaled fences and escaped the complex on Saturday night, joining others fleeing the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic.
He walked through the night, taking the northern road to Heb, his native city. The move distanced him from the Zhengzhou factory of iPhone maker Foxconn ( 2317.TW ), the largest Taiwanese group in mainland China.
Since mid-October, Foxconn has been battling an outbreak of COVID-19 at its facility in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province in central China. Employees were closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Foxconn has repeatedly refrained from disclosing the number of cases.
“We were closed on October 14 and had to do endless PCR tests, and after about 10 days we had to wear N95 masks and were given traditional Chinese medicine,” Yuan said.
If a positive or suspected case is found on a production line, there will be a public broadcast, but work will continue, he told Reuters.
“People were called away in the middle of work, and if they didn’t show up the next day, it would mean they were taken away,” Yuan said.
Yuan heard that about 20,000 workers were quarantined on site, but he could not be sure how many were infected because management did not release that information.
China routinely isolates a large number of people who are thought to be close or even potential contacts of an infected person. The world’s second largest economy continues its war against the COVID virus with disruptive shutdowns, mass testing, and quarantine, while many other countries have chosen to live with the disease.
For companies with large manufacturing campuses, such as Foxconn, this meant keeping thousands of workers on-site in so-called closed-loop systems to keep production lines running.
“Food for tens of thousands was just left (from the factory’s quarantine buildings),” said Li, a 21-year-old worker.
He, who is still at the factory, said he plans to quit.
Apple’s ( AAPL.O ) supplier Foxconn said in a statement on Monday that reports that 20,000 workers have been diagnosed with COVID are false.
On Sunday afternoon, the company told Reuters in an email that workers were free to leave if they wanted. Read more
Foxconn did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for further comment on Monday.
Disruption to business and industry due to China’s zero-covid policy increased in October as cases rose. In addition to Foxconn, the Shanghai Disney Resort was closed on Monday to comply with anti-epidemic requirements, and visitors were still inside.
For Yuan, things came to a head when he heard that guards had cordoned off a workers’ apartment near his factory on Friday and that the factory itself would be under curfew the next day.
Panicked, Yuan decided to leave the next day and joined the other fleeing workers. It was not immediately clear whether the curfew was later imposed.
On Sunday morning, Yuan strayed to the banks of the Yellow River, the northern border of Zhengzhou, where authorities in the city of Xinxiang on the other side stopped him 50 km (30 mi) from Hebi.
“I will never return to Foxconn,” said Yuan, who was later transported to Hebi and placed in quarantine. “Zhengzhou sent a chill through my heart.”