Huge COVID protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Nov 26 (Reuters) – Rare protests have erupted in western China’s remote Xinjiang region, with crowds clamoring for hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire fueled anger over a prolonged COVID-19 quarantine and infections across the country. The country set another record.

According to videos posted on Chinese social media on Friday night, the crowd chanted “End the quarantine!” as they walked down the street. And they pumped their fists in the air. Reuters confirmed that the footage was released from Xinjiang’s capital city of Urumqi.

Videos show people in a square singing China’s national anthem with its lyrics: “Arise, those who refuse to be enslaved!” while others shouted that they wanted to be freed from the locks.

China has placed the vast region of Xinjiang under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents banned from leaving their homes for up to 100 days. The city has reported about 100 new cases in the past two days.

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Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighurs. Human rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abusing the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in detention camps. China strongly denies such claims.

The Urumqi protests followed a fire at a high-rise building there on Thursday night that killed 10 people.

Officials said residents of the building were able to get downstairs, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts shared on Chinese social media led many netizens to speculate that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked.

Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that Covid-19 measures had prevented the escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. One said if residents had a better understanding of fire safety, they could have escaped more quickly.

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“blame the victim”

Dolly Young, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such a “blaming the victim” attitude makes people angrier. “Public confidence will decrease,” he told Reuters.

Users of China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that stems from China’s insistence on adhering to a zero-covid policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarities to the deadly COVID quarantine bus crash in September.

“Isn’t there something we can think about to make changes,” said an article that went viral on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official narrative of the Urumqi apartment fire.

China defends President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-tolerance policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed. Officials have vowed to push ahead despite growing public opposition and the mounting toll on the world’s second-largest economy.

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While the country has recently modified its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted measures, the rise in cases has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in major cities, including Beijing, where Many of its residents are locked in their homes.

China recorded 34,909 local cases a day, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading across multiple cities, widespread quarantines and other restrictions on movement and trade.

Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, on Saturday tightened testing requirements for entering cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to provide a negative Covid test within 48 hours, down from 72 hours previously.

Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with joggers and picnickers, was briefly closed again after reopening.

Report by Yew Lun Tian; Edited by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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