Deadly Xinjiang fire stirs anger at China’s zero-Covid policy

BEIJING: Deadly fire in northwest China Xinjiang The region has sparked outrage over the country’s Covid-free policy, as Beijing counters growing public fatigue over its hardline approach to containing the coronavirus. .
Xinhua News Agency reported 10 people were killed and nine injured when flames consumed a residential building in the regional capital Urumqi on Thursday night.
Online posts circulating on both Chinese and foreign social media platforms since Friday have claimed that the prolonged Covid lockdown in the city has hampered rescue efforts.
Several videos emerged showing crowds of people taking to the streets in Urumqi to protest the measures.
The action comes amid growing public frustration over the government’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid and after sporadic protests in other cities.
China was the last major economy to adopt a Covid-free strategy, with authorities adopting rapid lockdowns, prolonged quarantines and mass testing to quell new outbreaks. when they appear.
Footage partially verified by AFP shows hundreds of people gathering outside Urumqi city government offices overnight, chanting: “Remove the blockade!”
In another clip, dozens of people are seen marching through a neighborhood in the east of the city, chanting similar slogans before confronting a row of officials wearing protective gear and angrily rebuking security personnel. .
AFP journalists were able to verify the videos by geolocating local landmarks, but were unable to pinpoint the exact time of the protests.
A wave of anger boiled over on social media platform Weibo on Friday amid claims that parked electric vehicles had no power during the extended lockdown that had blocked fire trucks from entering a narrow road leading to the burning building.
“I was also the one who threw myself off the roof, trapped in an overturned (quarantine) bus, came out of isolation at the Foxconn factory,” read one comment referring to several incidents. recently attributed to Covid-free restrictions.
Chinese authorities censor online content deemed politically sensitive and appear to have removed many posts and hashtags related to the fire on Saturday morning.
Urumqi police said in a Friday post on Weibo that they had arrested a woman surnamed Su for “spreading rumors online” regarding the number of casualties in the fire.
An initial investigation found that the fire was caused by an electrical outlet panel in the family bedroom of one of the apartments, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
City fire and rescue director Li Wensheng told reporters late on Friday, CCTV said rescue efforts were complicated by “lack of parking space and a large number of private vehicles parked in both sides” of the narrow road leading to the building.
According to the broadcaster, Urumqi mayor Maimaitiming Kade made a rare official apology for the fire at a press conference.
But officials also pushed back on some of the allegations online, denying that people’s doors had been closed with iron wire.
Covid control measures have forced some communities in Urumqi – a city of four million people – to stay in their homes for weeks at a time.
But after the protests, officials on Saturday said the city had “basically reduced the social infection rate to zero” and would “restore the normal order of life for residents in the areas.” low risk in an organized and orderly manner”.
Pandemic fatigue is growing in China, with violent protests erupting at a large Covid-19-affected factory in the central city of Zhengzhou in recent days due to a dispute wages and working conditions.
China recorded 34,909 new domestic infections on Saturday, the majority of which were asymptomatic, according to the National Health Commission.


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