“Xi Jinping, resign! Down with the Communist Party», protesters against the harsh restrictions of the Communist Party shout in the streets of Shanghai “Zero Covid” policy Chinese. Some hold up empty white banners, others light candles and lay flowers for the victims of the northwestern city of Urumqi. Here – for the delays in relief caused by anti-Covid rules – the authorities have been blamed for killing ten people in the fire that broke out Thursday night. The latest in a series of incidents, which has made the Chinese people rise up against government restrictions.
The demonstrations are an unusual sight in China and many arrests have already taken place in the Chinese financial capital. Despite this, however, the protest does not stop and, in addition to Shanghai, is also mounting in other cities, such as Qingdao, Nanjing and Beijing, where university students have mobilized above all.
China, protests over anti-Covid restrictions: angry crowds take to the streets in Shanghai
Demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing
A protester in Shanghai told the BBC he felt “shocked and a little excited” to see people on the street, calling it the first time he has seen such large-scale dissent in China. He said the restrictions made him feel “sad, angry and hopeless” because they prevented him from seeing his sick mother being treated for cancer.
There were also episodes of violence. The Associated Press reports the testimony of a protester: one of his friends was beaten by the police, while two others were attacked with pepper spray. Instead, demonstrators who chanted anti-government chants were led away and in some cases were punched or pushed into police cars.
Photos and videos also emerged online showing the students who launched their protests at the universities of Nanjing and Beijing on Saturday. Hundreds of people took part in one such demonstration at the capital’s Tsinghua University, where a group held up blank sheets of paper – a symbolic gesture of defiance of Chinese censorship – and was filmed chanting songs in support of freedom and of democracy.
What happened in Urumqi city
On Thursday night, ten people were killed in a fire that broke out on the fifteenth floor of a residential building in Urumqi – the capital of the Xinjiang region. The flames were triggered, according to the local CCTV broadcaster, by an electrical socket in the room of one of the occupants. Just three hours later, the firefighters managed to put out the flames and extract the injured, while many people were stuck at home due to the anti-Covid policy. Officially, local authorities have denied that the tragedy is due to pandemic restrictions, but the fact that they issued an unusual apology, following strong protests from residents, suggested an admission of guilt.
After the tragedy, the Urumqi government announced that the city has managed to stop the transmission of the coronavirus and that it will “gradually restore normality in low-risk areas”. However, the authorities stressed, some areas considered “high risk” are still confined, since “the results of the campaign for the prevention and control of infections must be continuously consolidated”.
Despite the economic impact and the growing discontent of some sectors of the population, the Chinese government therefore remains anchored to the “Zero Covid” policy, which it says is the “cheapest and most scientific” solution, the only one capable of saving millions of lives.