Protestors confronted hazmat-suited guards in China’s far western Xinjiang region after a deadly fire sparked anger over the country’s continuing Covid-19 lockdowns as nationwide infections set another record.
Crowds chanted “End the lockdown!”, pumping their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night. Reuters verified the footage was published from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labour in internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities have said the building’s residents had been able to go downstairs, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many internet users to surmise that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down.
Users on China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that sprang out of China’s insistence on sticking to its zero-Covid policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarities to the deadly September crash of a Covid quarantine bus.
Beijung Shuts Parks
China says President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-Covid policy is life-saving and necessary to prevent the healthcare system being overwhelmed. Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world’s second-biggest economy.
While the country recently tweaked its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted steps, this coupled with rising cases has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked down at home.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading in numerous cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened testing requirements on Saturday for entering cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours earlier.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, shut again after having briefly reopened.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara