Protests took place in China against the government’s COVID-19 policies over the weekend. The protests started on Friday in the north western city of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang province, and in the following days spread to bigger cities including Beijing and Shanghai. Protests also took place in some universities in the country.
The protesters have been raising issues related to the strict lockdown policies adopted by the local administrations in various parts of the country, demanding their withdrawal. There were reports of clashes between the police and the protesters in Shanghai on Sunday.
The protests broke out after at least 10 people died and nine others were injured in a fire accident in Urumqi.
There is a perception that the strict lockdown prevented people from escaping and that COVID-19-related policies were responsible for the deaths in Urumqi. However, some media organizations reported that this was not the case.
At about 19:49 on November 24, a fire broke out in a high-rise residential building in #Urumqi, killing 10 people and injuring 9 others.
Some people in China have expressed great sorrow and frustration online and in the streets.
Here’s what we know so far. 🧵 1/5 pic.twitter.com/MoMRI14eUL
— Dongsheng News (@DongshengNews) November 27, 2022
The ‘Zero COVID’ policies adopted by China have been a center of debate in the country for some time. The government has argued that the policy is necessary to prevent a large number of deaths. China’s low death rate from the pandemic, which broke out in the country in late 2019, has been acknowledged globally. The US has seen over 20,000 deaths due to COVID-19 this month already, while COVID-19-related deaths in China are almost negligible. China had announced an easing of some of the norms earlier this month while sticking to the larger Zero COVID policy.
On Saturday, China reported more than 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections, most of them asymptomatic. Cases are on the rise due to new and more infectious variants of the virus.
When the rest of the world has largely stopped lockdown measures, people in many cities in China were undergoing strict lockdowns, sometimes for months. Apart from lockdowns, China continues with repeated mass testing and strict tracing of the virus. Some cities have repeatedly enforced lockdowns, which has led to anger and frustration among sections of the population, occasionally erupting in small-scale protests.
In the aftermath of the protests, media reports said that local authorities had eased some of the restrictions in some areas. An article in Global Times said health authorities had dispatched teams to supervise the implementation of norms by local authorities. The article quoted experts as noting that “some local authorities have taken a “one-size-fits-all” approach and excessive policy steps, increasing the burden on local medical resources and residents, and some places have not fully followed the new measures, which has also amplified the impact on economic and public services to livelihoods.”