10 Dead In Urumqi, China in Covid Protest Fire

Demonstrations from the western Chinese city of Urumqi have erupted on social media after a fire killed 10 people, despite nationwide protests over the country's tough Covid rules.

10 Dead In Urumqi, China in Covid Protest Fire
Source: Twitter

Social media reports alleged that restrictions on the Xinjiang capital, which has been closed since August, prevented rescue efforts and the ability of residents to escape from a house fire on Thursday night. An uncensored video of the protest in the city on Friday night has been shared widely. On Saturday, officials denied some allegations about the fire and said some online images of locked doors were fake, China's state news agency Xinhua reported. The social media outrage over the Urumqi incident reflects wider frustration in China with an epidemic prevention system that has contained the virus for nearly three years but is now under scrutiny.

President Xi Jinping's Covid-19 response is at a critical juncture, as authorities continue to impose strict, largely inconsistent lockdowns across regions, while the number of cases also the day hits a record high and a sign of dissatisfaction. On Saturday, the country reported about 32,000 new cases nationwide - a third consecutive daily record - with some of its largest cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing, recording significant outbreaks.

Earlier this month, protests broke out at an iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, which was shut down completely this week. Demonstrations of chaos in the industrial areas of Guangzhou, where authorities closed off neighborhoods one by one, were also shared widely on social media.

In Urumqi, a resident, who declined to reveal his name, said he was locked in his house for more than three months but joined the protest in person with hundreds of other residents on Friday evening. "It's good to lock down the city, but it's not good to prevent emergency evacuation," he said, referring to allegations that local government restrictions prevented residents from entering. escape the fire. "We are human beings, not animals." 

He added that he was forced to borrow money from his friends because of the lockdown and a video of protesters chanting "lift the lockdown" was circulated. Many videos of the protests in Urumqi have been viewed on WeChat.

Urumqi on Saturday added 273 new high-risk areas for the spread of the coronavirus. Xinhua News acknowledged the issue of access to fire due to parked cars and said that an investigation will be conducted into the incident.

Beijing has been under its strictest restrictions since the outbreak of the virus, but it ended before a full city lockdown of the type imposed in Shanghai in the spring of this year. Freedom House, a Washington DC-based democracy watchdog, said it has documented several Covid-related protests in recent months.

Xinran Andy Chen, an analyst at the Chinese consultancy Trivium, argued that "angry, fatigue and protest" against zero-Covid is "exactly here and growing", but argued that it is "not even close to" limit is recommended.