(CTNN News) – Early on Sunday, protests simmered in Shanghai as citizens of various Chinese towns, many of whom were incensed by a catastrophic fire in the country’s far west, rebelled against strict COVID-19 restrictions almost three years after the outbreak began.
In Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, a fire on Thursday that claimed 10 lives in a high-rise building sparked widespread public outrage as many internet users speculated that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down, a theory that city officials denied.
Residents of Shanghai, the most populous city in China and its financial centre, gathered on Saturday night on Wulumuqi Road, which takes its name from Urumqi. The vigil developed into a protest in the early hours of Sunday.
According to a video circulating on social media, the masses in Shanghai yelled, “Lift lockdown for Urumqi, lift lockdown for Xinjiang, lift lockdown for all of China!”
Witnesses and cameras claim that at one point, a sizable crowd started yelling, “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping, free Urumqi!” in a rare instance of a public protest against the Chinese government.
A sizable contingent of police watched and sometimes attempted to disperse the assembly.
Beijing maintains a zero-COVID policy while most countries seek to cohabit with the coronavirus. As a result of the spike in illnesses, lockdowns and other restrictions have been implemented in cities throughout China.
China argues that President Xi Jinping’s famous zero-COVID policy is important to save lives and keeps the healthcare system from being overburdened.
Despite escalating public opposition and the enormous burden it is placing on the second-largest economy in the world, officials have decided to continue with it.
Videos from Shanghai that were extensively posted on Chinese social media showed crowds shouting “Serve the people,” “We don’t want health standards,” and “We want freedom” while confronting hundreds of police.
Social media users shared images of Wulumuqi Road street signs to get through censorship and assist Shanghai demonstrators.
Others sent messages or remarks urging “you courageous young folks” to exercise caution. Many offered suggestions on what to do if the police showed up or began making arrests during a demonstration or vigil.
The two-month lockdown of Shanghai’s 25 million residents earlier this year sparked outrage and demonstrations.
Since then, Chinese officials have worked to focus its COVID bans more precisely, but this effort has been hampered by an increase in infections as China experiences its first winter with the extremely contagious Omicron variety.
China’s case counts have reached record highs for days while being low by international standards, with health officials reporting roughly 40,000 new infections on Sunday for the previous day.
After the fatal fire on Friday night, people gathered in Urumqi’s streets, yelling “End the lockdown!” and raising their fists in the air, according to footage on Chinese social media.
Many of Urumqi’s 4 million citizens have been subject to some of the longest lockdowns in the nation and have been unable to leave their homes for up to 100 days.
On Saturday, several citizens of Beijing, 2,700 kilometres (1,700 miles) distant, who were under lockdown, held minor rallies or challenged local authorities about mobility restrictions.
Some successfully pressed the government to ease the constraints earlier than scheduled.
Residents of Beijing were heard yelling, “End the lockdown!” as they marched across an outdoor parking lot on Saturday, according to a video shared with Reuters.
On Saturday, a request for comment was not immediately answered by the Beijing administration.
According to a note published by Mark Williams of Capital Economics last week, the coming weeks in China could be the worst for the country’s economy and healthcare system since the first few days of the pandemic.
This is because efforts to contain the outbreak will necessitate more localized lockdowns in numerous cities.
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