Thursday, December 22, 2022

China reiterates zero-Covid stance as protests continue to grip the nation

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The government did not comment on the protests or criticism of President Xi, the most widespread opposition demonstration against the ruling Communist Party in decades.

There was no official word on how many people were arrested after police used pepper spray on protesters in Shanghai and efforts to quell demonstrations in other cities, including the capital Beijing.

Beijing’s municipal government said it would no longer erect gates to block access to residential complexes where infections are detected. It did not mention a deadly fire that sparked the protests last week after angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other antivirus controls.

Passageways must be kept clear for medical transport, emergency escapes and rescue operations,” said Wang Daguang, a city disease control official, according to the official China News Service.

“Zero Covid,” which aims to isolate every infected person, has helped keep China’s case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries. But people in some areas have been confined at home for up to four months and say they lack reliable food supplies.

The ruling party pledged last month to reduce “zero-Covid” disruption by changing quarantine and other rules. But public acceptance is waning after a surge in infections prompted cities to tighten controls, fueling complaints of overzealous enforcement hurting the public.

On Monday, the number of daily new cases rose to 40,347, including 36,525 without symptoms.

The ruling party’s newspaper, People’s Daily, called for effective implementation of its anti-virus strategy, noting that the Xi government has no plans to change course.

“Facts have fully demonstrated that every version of the Prevention and Control Plan has stood the test of practice,” wrote a commentator for People’s Daily.

Also on Monday, the southern manufacturing and trading metropolis of Guangzhou, the biggest hotspot in China’s latest wave of infections, announced that some residents will no longer be required to undergo mass testing. He mentioned the need to conserve resources.

The protests spread to at least eight major cities after at least 10 people died in the fire at an apartment building in Urumqi on Thursday

Most protesters complained of excessive restrictions, but some shouted slogans against Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s. A crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!”

Police broke up that demonstration with pepper spray, but people returned to the same spot for another protest on Sunday. A reporter saw an unidentified number being driven away in a police van after being arrested.

The BBC said one of its journalists covering the Shanghai protests was “beaten and kicked by police”. He was also arrested and finally released, the broadcaster said.

According to Chinese officials, Mr Lawrence was arrested “for his own good” if he caught Covid from the crowd, but the BBC said it “didn’t think that was a credible explanation”.

Anti-government protests are extremely rare in China, as social media is heavily monitored and the public faces harsh reprisals for speaking out against the Communist Party.

Directly calling for the resignation of the country’s leader is even rarer, and the protests represent the largest widespread demonstration by the opposition against the ruling party in decades.

“I don’t want a Covid test, I want freedom”

Reporting from the city, Latest Page News news journalist Megumi Lim said: “Hundreds of people have taken to the streets to protest the ‘zero Covid’ measures they are so fed up with.

“People are shouting slogans: I don’t want a Covid test, I want freedom.

“What started as a vigil to commemorate and mourn the 10 people who died in the fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, because firefighters were unable to get to the fire due to the lockdown enforced there.

“People are very angry and I think things have reached a boiling point here in Beijing.”

“The lockdown policy is so strict,” said a protester in Beijing, who declined to give only his last name, Li. “You can’t compare it to any other country. We have to find a way out.”

About 2,000 students at Xi’s alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing, gathered to demand a relaxation of antivirus controls, according to social media posts. Students shouted “Freedom of Speech!” and sang the Internationale, the socialist anthem.

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