Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 October 2020

Coronavirus: iPhone maker to quarantine staff to stop spread

Taiwan's Foxconn will reopen its factories inside China on February 10

Foxconn employees wearing masks attend the company's year-end gala in Taipei, Taiwan. Reuters
Foxconn employees wearing masks attend the company's year-end gala in Taipei, Taiwan. Reuters

The largest manufacturer of parts for Apple’s iPhones in China has announced plans to quarantine factory workers when they return to work on February 10 in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus amid warnings over supplies to the tech giant.

Taiwanese multinational Foxconn, otherwise known as Hon Hai, is the planet's largest electronics contract manufacturer and assembles parts for many of Apple’s products including the iPhone and other smartphones.

But many of Foxconn's factories are based in China, including sites close to Wuhan city where the latest coronavirus outbreak began.

China extended the annual lunar holiday and companies remained closed in a bid to help contain the spread of the virus that has already hit over a dozen countries around the world.

The Chinese government has also asked factories to remain closed after the extended Chinese New Year holiday on February 10.

But in a statement released on Wednesday, Foxconn said its workers returning from outside Henan Province – which neighbours Wuhan’s Hubei province – will be sequestered for 14 days.

Any staff reporting to work who reside within the province itself will be isolated for 7 days, the company added.

"Foxconn is closely monitoring the current public health challenge linked to the coronavirus and we are applying all recommended health and hygiene practices to all aspects of our operations in the affected markets,” the company said.

Apple, a company that many tech analysts have warned could be hit hard by production slowdowns due to the virus, has not directly commented on concerns.

"There's more uncertainty, it's a very fluid situation," CEO Tim Cook said last week.

Wednesday’s announcement came after US-based chipmaker Qualcomm warned that the viral outbreak in China would affect the global supply chain and shipments in the phone industry.

Foxconn’s biggest factory is in the transitory city of Zhengzhou, in Henan Province, some 500 kilometres north of Wuhan in Hubei Province, where the new coronavirus outbreak began.

The company makes the vast majority of the world’s iPhones from its Zhengzhou factory. The company has become a high-profile symbol of how the outbreak, which has killed about 500 worldwide, could disrupt supplies of made-in-China electronics and cause shortages.

A report this week said that iPhone supplies would be hit if supplier plants don’t re-open on February 10.

In some Chinese cities, authorities are asking companies to put workers returning from other provinces under a three-day quarantine. The requirement poses a logistical issue as sites can employ thousands of workers.

However, Foxconn's plan to quarantine factory staff in Zhengzhou has been deemed feasible because many of the over 120,000 workers live on-site during their working weeks.

However, some experts have also suggested longer quarantine periods as it can take up to 14 days for the Wuhan Coronavirus' symptoms to manifest. It also appears that those infected can be contagious before displaying symptoms.

But so far Apple’s main suppliers Foxconn, Quanta Computer, Inventec, and LG have all said they intend to resume production on February 10.

TMSC, another Taiwanese company linked to Apple, said its own production remained on-track.

The company makes semiconductors and the A-series microchips that power iPhones, iPads, Apple TV and iPod touch.

Foxconn, and by extension Apple and other major buyers such as Hewlett-Packard, have previously been accused of poor working practices that drove dozens of workers to take their own life.

Although the total number of workers who died at the company’s sites isn’t public, dozens of incidents were reported between 2010 and 2013.

The company drew criticism for failing to address root causes when it installed jump nets around its factories.

Updated: February 6, 2020 05:30 PM

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