Chinese citizens have taken to the streets to protest the Government’s COVID-zero strategy. Protesters have called for the removal of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party – an unusual public display in a country where dissent is tightly restricted.
It comes as lockdown measures have been tightened in several locations in response to record COVID case numbers.
China has broken its record for COVID cases several days in a row, with daily reported cases now almost at 40,000. The Government has responded by tightening restrictions, including lockdowns in several cities.
China has a strict approach to COVID containment under a policy it calls “dynamic zero COVID”. Xi Jinping recommitted to this policy earlier this month. Chinese lockdowns are harsh, with residents often unable to leave their homes for any reason.
One cause of this week’s protests was a fire in an apartment block in Ürümqi, which killed at least 10 people.
Ürümqi is the capital of the Xinjiang region, where the Government has been accused of human rights violations against the Uyghur people.
It has been under lockdown for several months, and there are reports the lockdown conditions contributed to the deaths.
A resident of Ürümqi who lived near the fire told the BBC that people who live in apartment blocks “don’t dare to go downstairs without permits” to avoid breaking lockdown rules, meaning residents may have been unsure whether they were allowed to evacuate.
Local authorities denied this, saying the deaths were because “some residents’ ability to rescue themselves was too weak… and they failed to escape”.
Protests have broken out over the last two nights in several cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu.
In Shanghai, protesters gathered at Wulumqi Road, named after the city of Ürümqi. They were filmed chanting “Down with the Chinese Communist Party! Down with Xi Jinping!”
There have been reports of arrests and police brutality.
One reason often suggested for China’s harsh containment policies is that its vaccination rates for elderly citizens remain very low.
According to official statistics, only 59% of Chinese people over 80 have received one dose of a vaccine, and 20% have received at least three doses.