The Chinese city of Zhengzhou – known locally as iPhone City as it’s home to the world’s largest iPhone factory – has been placed into immediate lockdown following the discovery of COVID-19 infections.

This will have an immediate effect on iPhone 13 production, and also impacts Apple’s preparations for later iPhone 14 assembly …

Zhengzhou had so far escaped lockdowns, and as recently as yesterday the company asked Foxconn to ramp up recruitment of iPhone workers, to balance out loss of manufacturing capacity elsewhere in the country.

Background

While most countries around the world have ended lockdowns, adopting an approach of living with COVID-19, China maintains its efforts to completely eradicate the infection.

A lockdown in Shenzhen last month forced Foxconn to halt iPhone assembly at two plants, though a combination of exemptions for closed-loop production, and the company’s ability to switch to backup facilities meant that iPhone production wasn’t badly hit.

However, lockdowns in Shanghai and Kunshan have seen Apple production halted at three other suppliers, and these are expected to have a much more significant impact.

Zhengzhou has previously escaped lockdowns. Indeed, as recently as yesterday, we learned that Apple had asked Foxconn to bring on board iPhone 14 workers earlier than usual, likely in the hopes of establishing closed-loop production at at early stage, to guard against lockdowns once assembly of this year’s iPhone line-up begins.

iPhone City in lockdown

South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that Zhengzhou has been placed into immediate lockdown following a small-scale COVID outbreak.

Zhengzhou, which recorded on Wednesday four new Covid-19 cases and 10 new asymptomatic carriers, is under lockdown from Wednesday till next Tuesday. During this period, employees of government organisations and companies in the city’s main districts will work from home, school lessons will move online, and people will only be allowed to leave and enter Zhengzhou under “necessary” circumstances.

Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer and Apple’s prime supplier, on Wednesday froze its hiring process of assembly line personnel until further notice, according to updates posted on Chinese social media by a number of worker recruitment agencies in Zhengzhou, capital of central Henan province.

A week-long city-wide lockdown might seem like a massive over-reaction to just 14 cases, but China continues to insist that it can completely eradicate the disease from the country by taking radical measures like this.

9to5Mac’s Take

Although the number of cases is tiny, and the present lockdown is for just one week, this is a hugely worrying development for Apple.

iPhone production was already hit by lockdowns in other cities, but Apple could take comfort from the fact that he largest iPhone factory in the world had been unaffected. Foxconn even has backup production lines there specifically intended to pick up assembly slack when other parts of China are in lockdown.

Even a short-term lockdown will have a significant impact, but the far more worrying prospect is that once the infection takes hold in the city, there will be further or continued outbreaks.

Sustained disruption in iPhone City would be such a big deal for China that it could even challenge the government’s zero-infection policy, where just one confirmed case leads to lockdowns. Much of the population is already frustrated at the policy, and this could significantly add to pressure to abandon it.

Photo: Hao Zhang/Unsplash

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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