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China’s Urumqi to ease COVID lockdown amid public anger over deadly fire

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  • At least 10 people were killed and nine injured when the fire broke out on Thursday.
  • Public anger over the tragedy has grown with the emergence of video footage that appears to show lockdown measures delaying firefighters from accessing the scene and reaching victims.

Chinese authorities said
Saturday they would ease a months-long COVID lockdown in the country’s far
western region of Xinjiang “in stages”, 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 fire broke out on Thursday, according to the local
fire department, and public anger over the tragedy has grown with the emergence
of video footage that appears to show lockdown measures delaying firefighters
from accessing the scene and reaching victims.

One video that was widely
circulating on Chinese social media on Friday evening shows a large group of
people marching to a government building in Urumqi and chanting “end
lockdowns,” while another shows some residents breaking through lockdown
barriers and quarreling with officials.

The city, with a population of
close to 4 million people, has been under a strict lockdown since August, yet
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 ease lockdown
measures in neighborhoods categorized as “low risk” by authorities “in stages.”

Residents in these areas will
be allowed to leave their buildings in staggered periods of a day, but they
won’t be allowed to leave their residential compounds until all compounds in
the neighborhood are categorized as “low risk” areas.

Sui Rong, the propaganda chief
of Urumqi, claimed the city had “basically eliminated COVID cases in society”
because of the lockdown measures.

But she did not acknowledge
that there had been any protests and neither did she provide any clear time
frame for the relaxation of the measures or specify how many residents would be
able to leave their homes or compounds following the announcement.

Across China in recent weeks
there has been a growing torrent of dissent toward the government’s unrelenting
zero-COVID lockdowns, which officials insist are necessary to protect people’s
lives against the virus.

In the central city of
Zhengzhou this week, workers at the world’s biggest iPhone assembly factory
clashed with hazmat-suited security officers over a delay in bonus payments and
chaotic COVID rules.

And on Thursday, in the
sprawling metropolis of Chongqing in the southwest, a resident delivered a
searing speech criticizing the COVID lockdown in his residential compound.

“Without freedom, I would
rather die!” he shouted to a cheering crowd, who hailed him a “hero” and
wrestled him from the grip of several police officers who had attempted to take
him away.

Meanwhile, hopes that Beijing
might be signaling a slight softening of its approach – after minor relaxations
in some quarantine requirements – are beginning to fade amid an uptick in cases
as China heads into its fourth winter of the pandemic.

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



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