China eased some of its pandemic rules on Monday but affirmed its “zero COVID” strategy even as protests erupted throughout the country against the restrictions, and some demanded the resignation of President Xi Jinping.
The government made no mention of the demonstrations, the biggest show of opposition to the ruling Communist Party in decades, but the slight relaxation of the rules appeared aimed at quelling the demonstrations.
Chinese police were out in force in the streets of Beijing and Shanghai on Monday in an effort to prevent more protests against the government’s COVID restrictions.
In Hong Kong Monday evening, students at the Chinese University held a small-scale vigil to show support for protesters on the mainland.
Over the weekend, protesters shouted, “Lift the lockdown!” in a city in China’s western region, while across the country in Shanghai, the financial center, protesters held up blank sheets of white paper as a quiet show of dissent.
A Shanghai resident told VOA he no longer fears the spread of the infection because it has become normalized.He said, “I just eat whatever I want to eat, and do whatever I want to do. What is there to worry about? It’s a cold. It’s normal.”
Others in Shanghai chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” in referring to the Communist Party. Police detained dozens of protesters, driving them away in police vans and buses, although the exact number was not clear.
At Peking University in Beijing, graffiti read, “We don’t want lockdown or control; we want freedom. We don’t want PCR testing; we want to eat.
Xi’s “zero COVID” policy has sharply limited infections through stringent lockdowns that have disrupted everyday life in the country of 1.4 billion people. Protests erupting at locations around the country appear to indicate that many Chinese have grown weary of the lengthy quarantines and widespread testing.
The Beijing city government said Monday it would no longer set up gates to block people from entering apartment compounds where infections have been found. It, however, made no mention of a deadly fire last week in the western Xinjiang region that spawned protests over whether firefighters and victims trying to escape a building were blocked by locked doors and other anti-infection controls.
“Passages must remain clear for medical transportation, emergency escapes and rescues,” the China News Service quoted a city epidemic control official as saying.
The government blamed “forces with ulterior motives” for linking the fire to the strict COVID measures.
In Urumqi, where the deadly fire occurred, a witness to last week’s blaze told VOA on Monday that firefighters had difficulty entering the building because of the government’s anti-COVID policies.
“The fire exit door on the top floor was locked. Then they came down using the elevator to the first floor,” the witness, a Uyghur who asked to remain anonymous fearing Chinese government retaliation, told VOA.
“Unfortunately, that exit was also locked by the government officials because of the mask.”
People in Xinjiang use the word “mask to” refer to the Chinese government’s zero-COVID policy.
China’s government denies that firefighters had any difficulty accessing the building and has accused “forces with ulterior motives” for linking the fire to COVID-19 measures. (VOA)