Nov 26 (Reuters) – Rare protests erupted in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire sparked anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as nationwide infections set another record.
According to videos circulating on Chinese social media on Friday night, the crowd chanted “End the lockdown!” he shouted, pumping his fist in the air as he walked down the street. Reuters has verified that the piece was published in the Xinjiang capital Urunqi.
Videos showed people in the plaza singing China’s national anthem with its lyric, “Rise up, you who refuse to be slaves!” Others shouted that they wanted release from the lockdowns.
China has placed the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, barring 4 million residents of Urumqi from leaving their homes for up to 100 days. 100 new cases each have been reported in the last two days in the city.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses, mainly against Muslim ethnic minorities. China strongly rejects such claims.
Urunki Protests A fire broke out in a high-rise building there on Thursday night, killing 10 people.
Officials said the building’s occupants were able to get down, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts were shared on Chinese social media, leading many internet users to speculate that the occupants were unable to escape in time because the building was partially on lockdown.
Urumqi officials held an abrupt news conference early Saturday morning, denying that Covid measures had hindered the escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. Residents could have escaped faster if fire safety had been better understood, one said.
Blame the victim
Dolly Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such “victim” behavior makes people angry. “Public trust is going to go down,” he told Reuters.
Users on China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that emerged from China’s insistence on sticking to its zero-COVID policy and could happen to anyone. Some lamented its comparisons to the deadly September crash of a COVID quarantine bus.
“Isn’t there something we can reflect on to make some changes,” an essay that went viral on WeChat on Friday questioned the official narrative of the Urumqi apartment fire.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy is essential to save lives and prevent overwhelming the health system. Officials have vowed to continue despite growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world’s second-largest economy.
While the country has recently tweaked its measures, easing quarantines and taking other targeted measures, it has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, with rising cases, where many residents are locked at home.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third record in a row, as infections spread across several cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, on Saturday tightened testing requirements to enter cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours before.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, has been closed again after briefly reopening.
Report by Yu Lun Tian; Edited by William Mallard
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.