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World

Foxconn And Other Chinese Companies Reopen Factories — Very Carefully

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Much of the U.S. remains shuttered due to the coronavirus, but in China, some factories are beginning to hum. China's leadership is calling it a soft opening of their economy. Nationwide, workers are required to wear masks on the job and have their temperatures taken at the door. And individual companies are taking those precautions a step further, like Foxconn, which assembles iPhones in central China. Eva Dou of The Washington Post described to me what Foxconn's factory workers, who live in dormitories, have returned to.

EVA DOU: What we've seen is incredibly strict controls on every aspect of workers' lives from morning to night. They free organized workers into groups of 20 that are supposed to live together in the dorms, go to work together. They take the same shuttle bus each day, and they're supposed to kind of keep track of each other and report early if anyone shows signs of illness.

CHANG: Because it's easier to contact trace when you keep the groups of 20 constant - like, the individuals don't change.

DOU: Right. Exactly. Also, at Foxconn's lunchrooms, each seat has a QR code. And there's an internal app, and that shows where they sat at lunch. Then, again, if an employee does get infected, they can figure out who was sitting close by.

CHANG: Wow.

DOU: We've also seen these cardboard dividers that separate the tables into individual seats. So when you're sitting down to lunch, you can't see the person facing you or to the sides. And they even have a protocol for how you're supposed to place your mask when you take it off. They say you should keep your mask on until you've sat down behind the cardboard dividers and then place it with the inside face-up while you're eating and then put it back on after you finish eating - so incredibly detailed protocols.

CHANG: I understand that Foxconn is actually making masks right now for all of its employees. Is that correct?

DOU: Yes, exactly. Foxconn actually has been diversifying its manufacturing for some years kind of quietly. It's still most known for producing iPhones and other electronics, but they've been making a wide array of different household goods. And so they do have the experience on how to set up different sorts of manufacturing lines pretty quickly, and they did also receive a lot of help from the government to set up those production lines for masks.

CHANG: Another company that you write about is Huawei, the telecom giant. You write that they've issued a 73-page guidebook for employees returning to work, which sounds so thick to me. I mean, what sorts of things are in these 73 pages?

DOU: Well, they include a lot of rules for every segment of the work day, like hand-washing protocols, how to disinfect your desk each day, also very minor things. Like, for their cafeterias, they're not supposed be serving any sort of undercooked food. They specifically said no sunny side up eggs or soft-boiled eggs during this period.

CHANG: Interesting. Obviously, there are important differences between the political system in China and the political system here in the U.S., but do you see anything that companies in China are doing now in the way it's enforcing these guidelines with workers that could be applicable here in the U.S.?

DOU: Yeah. The political systems are very different, and these kind of draconian controls on workers are something that just wouldn't work in the U.S. or Western countries. I think some of the principles of how you minimize the risk of infection in the workplace are pretty universal. And I think the difference is that in countries like the U.S., it's going to rely more on individual workers having the knowledge to know how to keep themselves as safe as possible because sort of the takeaway from all of this is your company can't eliminate the risk of coronavirus for you. They can do things like temperature checks at the door, but we've seen there are a lot of silent carriers. And there is the risk that if you go to the workplace, you will get sick. And all workers can do is to try to minimize that risk for themselves as much as possible.

CHANG: Eva Dou is the China business and economy correspondent for The Washington Post.

Thank you very much for joining us.

DOU: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.