The Foxconn workers left the factory, in Zhengzhou, on Saturday after an unknown number of them were forced to quarantine in the facility earlier this month due to an outbreak of the virus.
A group of people, allegedly Foxconn factory employees, are seen climbing over fences and carrying their belongings down a motorway in videos circulating on Chinese social media platform Douyin.
It is unclear whether the company allowed the workers to leave or if they resorted to escaping.
A number of those that left had reportedly walked for days in order to avoid checkpoints and CCTV surveillance on public transport.
During the day, they also walked through wheat fields carrying their belongings, according to a user on social media platform WeChat. “I couldn’t help but feel sad,” they added.
Volunteers from villages put out food and drinks for the workers. One volunteer, who asked to be identified only as Zhang, was in charge of distributing supplies from his village in Xingyang county.
He said the people shown in a video he uploaded to Douyin were Foxconn workers because they would have had to take that road if they were leaving the compound.
Foxconn, which has its HQ in Taiwan, said on Sunday that it would not stop the workers from leaving to return to their hometowns. It did not confirm how many workers had left, or how many had caught Covid.
The company promised that it would ensure the safety, legitimate rights and income for the workers that were willing to stay, according to the Zhengzhou government’s official public WeChat account.
Foxconn was arranging buses to take the workers, who had left, home – with at least seven pickup points, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports citing the Zhengzhou government’s social media posts.
Cities in central China have rushed to make plans to isolate Foxconn workers travelling to their home towns amid fears they will spread the coronavirus after leaving the plant.
Local authorities in Yuzhou, Changge and Qinyang urged Foxconn workers to report to local authorities before going home.
Foxconn also promised that workers choosing to remain on the compound would be given good meals, and that regular PCR tests and disinfection of production lines and dormitories would be carried out, SCMP adds.
The factory, in the Henan province, is one of the largest factories in China that assembles Apple devices, including iPhones. It has a capacity of up to 350,000 employees.
Zhengzhou reported 167 locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus in the seven days to 29 October – up from 97 infections in the prior seven-day period.
Earlier this week, media reports said that the factory had implemented a “closed-loop” system that largely restricts workers to movements between their dorms and the assembly lines.
Foxconn workers complained of poor food quality and a lack of medical care for those who tested positive, local media reports.
The company has denied rumours that 20,000 people in the plant were infected with Covid.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press.