HONG KONG (AP) – The company that assembles Apple Inc.’s iPhones. has announced it is easing COVID-19 restrictions at its largest factory in China, which forced thousands of workers to leave and drastically slowed production.

Foxconn Technology Group said in a statement on one of its official WeChat social media accounts that it would end the so-called “closed loop” system at the facility in Zhengzhou, central China, which required workers to say in places of their work and dormitories to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections.

The move announced on Wednesday came about a week after China began easing tough COVID-19 restrictions, despite signs that the number of infections was rising.

After a series of protests across the country last month, many “zero-COVID” restrictions were lifted. This means that people no longer need to undergo frequent tests for COVID-19 to travel on public transport. If they test positive for the virus, they can be isolated at home if they have mild or no symptoms instead of being sent to a quarantine center.

The government of Chinese President Xi Jinping is still officially committed to stopping the transmission of the virus. But recent government moves suggest authorities will tolerate more infections without quarantines or closing travel or businesses.

Political cartoons about world leaders

Political cartoons

Thousands of workers at the huge factory in Zhengzhou walked out in late October over complaints of unsafe working conditions – such as food shortages due to closed cafeterias – and a virus outbreak at the factory.

The last quarter of the year is typically a busy season for companies like Foxconn, as they ramp up production ahead of the holiday rush. Apple has warned that shipments of the iPhone 14 will be delayed due to production disruptions.

Foxconn, based in New Taipei City, Taiwan, has been trying to rebuild its workforce after mass layoffs in late October. The company later ended up apologizing after a wage dispute sparked protests by workers who said Foxconn had changed the wage terms offered to lure them to the factory.

In its announcement, the company said it would no longer provide free meals to workers because factory cafeterias would reopen. Instead, food expenses will be deducted from employee wages as usual, although workers who must be quarantined after testing positive for the virus will receive free meals.

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