Home News Anger mounts over China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy after deadly fire

Anger mounts over China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy after deadly fire

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A deadly blaze in Xinjiang, northwest China, has stoked anger on social media over the strict policy “zero Covid” practiced by Beijing, accused by Internet users of having slowed down the rescue.

Ten people were killed and nine injured in a fire at a residential building on Thursday in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, according to the Xinhua news agency.

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Since Friday, messages circulating on social networks in China and abroad claim that the anti-Covid confinements in force in the city have hindered the arrival of firefighters at the scene of the tragedy. Videos meanwhile showed groups of people taking to the streets of Urumqi to protest the restrictions.

Images posted on social networks and partially verified by AFP show hundreds of people gathered overnight in front of Urumqi town hall, chanting: “Remove the lockdowns! »

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In another video, dozens of people can be seen marching through a neighborhood in the east of the city, shouting the same slogan, before facing a row of law enforcement officers dressed in virus protection suits and boo copiously.

AFP journalists verified the authenticity of these videos by geolocating the buildings that appear in them, but were unable to determine the exact moment when these demonstrations took place.

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Arrested for “rumors”

A wave of anger simmered on the Weibo social network on Friday, with some saying parked electric vehicles left without power during the long periods of confinement had blocked access for fire engines to a narrow road leading to the burning building.

“It was also me who threw myself off the roof, who got stuck in an overturned (quarantine) bus, who came out of isolation at the Foxconn factory”can we read in a comment that refers to several recent incidents attributed to the “zero Covid”.

Chinese authorities, which censor politically sensitive online content, appeared to have deleted multiple posts and hashtags relating to the fire as early as Saturday morning.

Urumqi police said on Weibo on Friday that they had arrested a woman for having “spread online rumours” about the number of victims of the fire.

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Apologies from the mayor, extremely rare

An initial investigation showed the fire started from a row of electrical sockets in a bedroom of one of the apartments, according to public broadcaster CCTV.

Rescue attempts were complicated by “a lack of parking spaces and a large number of private vehicles parked on both sides” from the alley leading to the building, Li Wensheng, the city’s fire chief, said Friday, according to CCTV.

Extremely rare, the mayor of Urumqi, Maimeiming Kade, presented his formal apologies for the fire, still according to CCTV.

But authorities have also refuted some of the claims online that the doors to the building were sealed with wires to keep residents out during the lockdown.

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Parts of Urumqi, a metropolis of four million people, have been confined for weeks. But after the protests, authorities announced on Saturday that the city “had basically reduced social transmissions to zero” and she was going “restore the normal order of life for residents in low-risk areas, in a phased and orderly manner”.

Weariness

Weariness is growing in China against the draconian policy to fight the pandemic. Sporadic and sometimes violent protests have already taken place in several cities in recent days, including at the world’s largest iPhone factory in central Zhengzhou, owned by Taiwanese giant Foxconn.

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Despite several vaccines available, and contrary to the rest of the world, the Asian country continues to apply strict restrictions to avoid contamination and death.

This policy consists of imposing confinements as soon as cases appear, placing people who test positive in quarantine in centers and requiring almost daily PCR tests for access to public places.

China recorded 34,909 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, the vast majority of which were asymptomatic, according to the National Health Commission.

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