Cities across China from the capital Beijing in the north to Urumqi in the west have seen rare protests against COVID-19 lockdowns imposed by the government, reflecting rising public anger over the stringent measures.
A day after widespread anger on Chinese social media after a fire in an apartment building in Xinjiang capital Urumqi killed at least 10 people — the delay in extinguishing the fire was widely seen as a result of more than three month-long lockdown measures in the western Xinjiang region — videos on social media showed Urumqi residents protesting on Friday night in front of a government office.
On Saturday, Urumqi authorities said they would lift COVID-19 restrictions in phases, a rare climbdown after more than three months of tight lockdowns in many parts of the city.
The Urumqi fire was among the most discussed topics on Chinese social media on Friday and Saturday, triggering an outpouring of anger on tightening COVID-19 measures as the country faces a record number of cases.
The National Health Commission on Saturday reported 35,183 new cases, another pandemic record, up from 32,695 on Friday, which was also a record. More than 31,000 of those cases were asymptomatic.
That most cases have been mild or asymptomatic has further added to the ire of a weary public, as continuing lockdowns exact heavy economic and social costs. Schools in many cities, including Beijing, have been closed.
The Chinese capital has also seen rare protests, with videos on social media showing residents in several residential communities openly confronting hazmat suit-clad pandemic enforcers and even taking down barriers. Clashes have also been reported in recent days in other cities over the lockdown measures, including iPhone manufacturing hub Zhengzhou in central China and Guangzhou in the south.
Beijing has maintained it would continue with its “zero-COVID” policy, even as China remains an exception from the rest of the world that has returned to some normalcy relying on vaccinations. The Chinese government fears mass deaths from opening as only 40% of the above-80 population has received the three doses of Chinese vaccines required to prevent hospitalisation and death, although it has not made any discernible attempt to revive a flagging vaccination campaign that has taken backseat to the continued focus on locking down and mass testing.