Rare protests erupted in China’s far west Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at guards in protective suits after a deadly fire sparked anger over prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns.
Infections across the country set another record on Friday (25). The politics China’s Covid Zero faces criticism in recent months.
Crowds chanted “End of blockade!” raising their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos that circulated on Chinese social media late on Friday. Reuters verified that the footage was posted in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi.
Footage showed people in a square singing China’s national anthem with its lyrics: “Arise, those who refuse to be slaves!” while others chanted that they wanted to be freed from the blockades.
China has placed the vast region of Xinjiang under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for up to 100 days. The city has reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighurs. Human rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mostly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in concentration camps. China vehemently rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a tall building that killed 10 people on Thursday night (24).
Authorities said residents of the building managed to get down the stairs, but videos of the efforts of emergency teams, shared on Chinese social media, led many netizens to assume that residents were unable to escape in time because the building was partially closed.
Urumqi officials abruptly gave a press conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that Covid-19 measures had hampered the evacuation and rescue, but saying they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had understood fire safety better.
“Blame the victim”
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said this “blaming the victim” attitude makes people angrier. “Public confidence will sink further,” he told Reuters.
Users of China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that stemmed from China’s insistence on maintaining its zero Covid policy and something that can happen to anyone. Some bemoaned its similarities to the crash of a bus carrying Covid-19 quarantine victims in September.
“Isn’t there something we can reflect on to make some changes?” said an essay that went viral on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official narrative about the fire in Urumqi’s apartment.
China champions President Xi Jinping’s Covid-zero policy as a lifesaver and necessary to avoid overloading the health care system. Officials have vowed to stick with the plan despite growing public resistance and its growing impact on the world’s second-largest economy.
While the country has recently adjusted its measures, shortening quarantines and adopting other specific measures, this, along with the rise in cases, has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in major cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked in their homes.
China has reported 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third consecutive record, with infections spreading across multiple cities, leading to widespread lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened test requirements on Saturday to enter cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to submit a negative test taken within 48 hours, down from the previous 72 hours.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with joggers and picnickers, has closed again after briefly reopening.
(Edited by William Mallard)
Source: CNN Brasil