China’s Urumqi to ease Covid lockdown amid public anger over deadly blaze


Chinese authorities announced on Saturday that they would “in stages” lift a months-long Covid lockdown in the country’s far western region of Xinjiang following protests over a deadly fire at an apartment building in the regional capital of Urumqi.

At least 10 people were killed and nine injured when the blaze broke out on Thursday, local firefighters say, and public anger over the tragedy has grown as video footage emerges that appears to show measures locks delaying firefighters’ access to the scene. and reach the victims.

A video that circulated widely on Chinese social media on Friday evening shows a large group of people marching towards a government building in Urumqi and chanting “end the lockdowns”, while another shows residents crossing the lockdown barriers and quarreling with officials.

The city, with a population of nearly 4 million, has been under a strict lockdown since August, but despite the measures its daily Covid infections continue to hover around 100.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, local government officials promised they would lift lockdown measures “in stages” – allowing residents of “low risk” compounds to leave their buildings.

Sui Rong, Urumqi’s propaganda chief, claimed the city had “basically wiped out Covid cases in society” due to lockdown measures.

But she did not acknowledge there had been any protests, nor did she provide a specific time frame for the easing of measures or specify how many residents could leave their homes or compound after the announcement.

High-rise buildings and apartments in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang region, on May 24.

Across China in recent weeks, there has been a growing torrent of dissent against the government’s relentless zero Covid lockdowns, which officials say are necessary to protect people’s lives from the virus.

In the central city of Zhengzhou this week, workers at the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant clashed with hazmat-suited safety officers over a delay in paying bonuses and rules chaos of Covid.

And on Thursday, in the sprawling southwest metropolis of Chongqing, a resident delivered a burning speech criticizing the Covid lockdown at his residential compound. “Without freedom, I would rather die!” he shouted to a cheering crowd, who hailed him as a “hero” and snatched him away from several police officers who had tried to take him away.

Meanwhile, hope that Beijing could signal a slight easing in its approach – after minor relaxations of some quarantine requirements – is starting to fade amid a surge in cases as China enters its fourth winter. of the pandemic.

This week, Covid cases in the country have reached record highs, according to the National Health Commission.

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