China’s Urumqi eases Covid lockdown amid public anger over deadly fire


Chinese authorities said on Saturday they would ease a months-long lockdown in Xinjiang, a remote region in the west of the country, in “phases” after a deadly fire in an apartment building in the regional capital Urumqi sparked protests.

At least 10 people were killed and nine injured when the blaze broke out on Thursday, according to the local fire service, as public outrage over the tragedy intensified as video clips emerged that appeared to show lockdown measures preventing firefighters from entering the scene and contact the victim.

One video that went viral on Chinese social media on Friday night showed a large crowd marching to government buildings in Urumqi and chanting “end the blockade,” while another showed some residents breaking through blockade barriers to brawl with officials.

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

Across China in recent weeks, dissent has grown over the government’s relentless Covid-free lockdown, which officials insist is necessary to protect people’s lives from the virus.

In the central city of Zhengzhou, workers at the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant clashed with security personnel in hazmat suits this week over delayed bonus payments and confusing Covid rules.

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In Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis in the southwest, a resident posted a statement on Thursday searing speech Criticized the Covid lockdown measures in place at his estate. “Without freedom, I’d rather die!” he shouted to the cheering crowd, who called him a “hero” and pulled him away from several police officers who tried to take him away.

Urumqi, home to nearly 4 million people, has been under strict lockdown since August, but despite the measures, its daily Covid infections have hovered around 100.

At a news conference on Saturday, local government officials pledged that they would ease lockdown measures in “phases” for communities classified by authorities as “low-risk”.

Residents in these areas will be allowed to leave their buildings at staggered times of the day, but will not be allowed to leave their housing estates until all nearby housing estates have been classified as “low risk” areas.

Sui Rong, head of propaganda in Urumqi, claimed that the city had “basically eliminated Covid cases from society” due to the lockdown measures.

But she did not acknowledge any protests, did not provide a clear timeline for any easing, and did not specify how many residents would be able to leave their homes or compounds after the announcement.

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Meanwhile, as China enters the fourth winter of the pandemic, amid rising cases, hopes that Beijing might signal a slight softening of its zero-Covid approach — after some quarantine requirements were eased slightly — are starting to fade.

This week, the number of Covid cases in the country hit a record high, according to the National Health Commission.

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