As locals voiced their discontent with the government’s zero-COVID policy, a fire that broke out on Thursday in the city of Urumqi in northwest China, killing at least 10 people, ignited a new wave of online and physical demonstrations.
According to Xinhua News Agency, the fire started in a high-rise structure and took three hours to put out. Videos that were shared online demonstrated that the fire was not doused with water from a fire engine that was far away. Public vehicles parked nearby have blocked the road, according to Urumqi officials, and it took the firefighters some time to remove COVID barriers.
China’s senior leadership outlined plans earlier this month to “optimise and adapt” the nation’s strict zero-Covid policy in order to preserve economic growth. The situation in Xinjiang, along with other lockdowns that have received little public attention in Tibet and along China’s southern border, suggests that loosening the nation’s virus controls will be a protracted and challenging process.
China’s Covid-control approach is frequently unclear and heavily dependent on the whims of local officials, the majority of whom have been trained over the previous two years to choose the most stringent anti-Covid actions. According to Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, breaking that habit will be challenging, particularly if administrators continue to risk penalty for tolerating significant outbreaks.
Social media users said that the private vehicles couldn’t be relocated since their owners were in a lengthy quarantine. Since August 10, many parts of Urumqi are under lockdown. Many people expressed their scepticism online despite the state media’s claims that the residential area where the fire started was “low risk” and residents were free to leave the apartment buildings.
Late on Friday, many videos of demonstrators yelling “Lift lockdowns!” appeared on Chinese social media sites like Twitter. The people who posted the videos said that they were taken on Friday night in Urumqi. On several Chinese platforms, a lot of the video content was later taken down.
In a press conference held late on Friday local time, Li Wensheng, chief of a branch of the Urumqi fire control agency, stated that “some citizens’ ability to protect and save themselves is weak.”
“It took me five days to recover from Covid,” a woman yelled at the official. “This is enough to go through 20 Covid infections.”
The ability of humans to attempt to preserve themselves is the last thing they [the officials] should mistrust, a user on Weibo remarked. Another user asked, “Are those victims incapable of rescuing themselves? Before they requested assistance, they pleaded with the building’s gate to be opened.
The fire was the most recent in a string of disasters connected to the zero-COVID policy that alarmed the neighbourhood. In September, a bus accident in the Guizhou province of southwest China left 20 people injured and 27 dead. Close family members of COVID patients were being transported on the bus for preventive quarantine.
Several users said on Weibo and WeChat, “No one is dying from COVID anymore, but we might perish because of the zero-COVID policy.”
“Isn’t there something we should think about and change, from the Guizhou bus disaster to this fire in Umruqi, from the 27 lives lost under the hill to the 10 individuals passed away at midnight?” In an article that was widely shared on WeChat, a writer by the name of “Taohuatan Libai” wrote. Within hours, the article had been banned.
The greatest daily total on record was recorded by China on Thursday: 32,695 new locally transmitted Covid infections.
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