Protests Against ‘zero COVID’ Policy Spread In China

Protests against the restrictions imposed by China in its ‘zero COVID’ strategy have spread to major cities after the death of a dozen people in an apparently confined building in the northwest of the country. Dozens of people took to the streets this Sunday night in the center of Beijing, joining the wave of vigils and mobilizations in recent days throughout cities and universities across the country, such as Shanghai, Wuhan or Nanjing.

The Chinese stock markets experienced losses in the session on Monday, while the Shanghai police have arrested several people and have placed fences in an area where two nights in a row of protests have been registered, reports the BBC, which has released a video of the Police preventing you from taking photos of the place. There is no official information on the number of detainees.

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The protests have spread to at least eight major cities, according to the Associated Presswith most protesters complaining of excessive restrictions, but some have also shouted slogans against Chinese President Xi Jinping, who recently won a third term, in a rare public display of disapproval of the Chinese leader’s policies.

“We want freedom”

In the capital, images posted on social media show several hundred people on the banks of the Liangma River, in the populated district of Chaoyang, chanting and shouting slogans such as “no more lockdowns,” many of them waving blank sheets of paper.

This is the first large protest to take place in the streets of the capital, although on this day there were also acts of this type at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of the most important in the country and Xi’s ‘alma mater’ Jinping and other prominent historical figures.

The protests began with a vigil with candles and flowers organized in memory of the victims of the fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, after which people began to march peacefully through the surrounding streets and shout “get down!” to the neighbors leaning out of the windows of the buildings.

The area, close to the financial district and the headquarters of most of the embassies present in the Chinese capital, was immediately cordoned off by the police, although so far there have been no clashes between protesters and security forces.

“We do not want PCR or masks, we want freedom” was another of the cries chanted by the protesters, who also sang The International and hymns in Chinese.

On the main Chinese social networks, such as Weibo – equivalent to Twitter, inaccessible in the country – references to this protest appear under the label “Beijing Parade”, but the publications are censored and disappear quickly, as EFE has been able to verify. .

“Whatever we think of the government, we are not asking for chaos or an absence of order. We want an internal reform, but it doesn’t seem possible. We are desperate,” a Pekingese told the agency who, like many people now in China, waits to see if the protests will continue or if their voices will be heard.

The trigger: a fire

Although the Chinese population has been fed up with the draconian anti-pandemic policy imposed by the authorities for months, the death of ten people in a fire in an apparently confined building in Urumqi last Thursday has ignited acts of rejection in many parts of the country.

Before Beijing, vigils and protests had already been registered in the last two days in other large cities such as Shanghai, Nanjing or Wuhan, according to videos broadcast on Western social networks.

The Chinese capital, especially shielded against outbreaks since 2020, is now experiencing its highest levels of infections. These data, low by international standards but intolerable for the Chinese authorities, have resulted in restrictions and confinements that affect a large part of the population of the capital, as has already happened this year in other parts of the country.

In the last week, schools and numerous shops and restaurants have been closing their doors in Beijing, a large part of the offices have switched to teleworking and a large number of urbanizations and building complexes are under confinement, with no figures available. officials of the exact number of Pekingese who cannot leave their homes at this time.

The zero COVID’ policy also implies the constant performance of PCR tests, since to access public places a negative test is required a maximum of 48 hours before, as well as admission to hospitals of positive cases and isolation in state centers of close contacts.

The Asian giant, practically isolated from the rest of the world since the beginning of 2020, has suffered numerous waves of COVID outbreaks since the beginning of this year attributed to the contagious omicron variant, which has put the national zero-tolerance strategy against the coronavirus in check.

The numbers of new COVID infections in China have broken their record for the fifth consecutive day after the National Health Commission reported on Monday 40,347 cases detected the day before, of which 36,525 (90.5%) are asymptomatic according to the standards of the institution.

The institution’s figures show that close to 1.8 million people currently remain under quarantine, since the guideline calls for transferring those infected -including those who are asymptomatic- to hospitals or isolation centers, and also, although separately, to the people who have had contact with them.

The official press has not covered the incidents, but the daily Global Times highlights in its editorials that the authorities must “optimize” the response to the virus. The newspaper points out that despite the current policy, which implies innumerable controls and confinements, “China faces a tougher battle, with large-scale domestic transmission. You have to be prepared for even worse scenarios.”

university protests

In the eastern megalopolis of Shanghai, which experienced a harsh lockdown this year that lasted for more than two months in some areas, hundreds of people gathered on Saturday night on Urumqi Street to hold a vigil in memory of the deceased. in the fire that passed in a mostly peaceful manner, according to testimonies on networks, among which some affirm that there were arrests.

The recordings show groups of protesters singing “Those who refuse to be slaves, rise up” – a stanza from the Chinese national anthem – or ‘The Internationale’, shouting “we want freedom”, “we don’t want to have PCR tests” or “that they fuck the QR codes”, referring to the obligation to scan the health QR codes with a mobile application at the entrance of any establishment or even in parks so that, when the authorities detect a contagion, they can determine who has had contact with that person at all times.

According to the specialized portal What’s On Weibo, numerous commentators on the Weibo social network -the local equivalent of Twitter, censored in the country- showed support for the vigil but, above all, asked the participants to protect themselves, before the censors of the platform prohibited commenting on the label that was used to talk about the subject.

That same portal indicates that, at a university in the eastern city of Nanjing, numerous students gathered on campus and turned on the flashlights of their mobile phones as a vigil for those who died in Urumqi.

Meanwhile, at another university, this time in Xi’an (downtown), a city that has also experienced harsh lockdowns, a group of students took to the streets of the campus to show their discontent over the anti-COVID lockdowns, which have also been a major drag on the national economy this year.

Detained journalists

In Shanghai, a BBC journalist was arrested on Sunday after being “beaten and kicked” by Chinese police officers while recording, according to the British chain.

The cameraman Ed Lawrence was covering the demonstrations in the city when he was “attacked” by several agents of the local police force, denounced the British media. “The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” a spokesman for the state channel said in a statement.

The reporter “was held for several hours before being released. During his detention, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist, ”adds the letter.

In its statement, the BBC stated that it had not received any kind of explanation for what happened. “We have not had any official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught COVID in the crowd,” reported the BBC.

Lawrence himself wrote on his Twitter account: “I understand at least one local citizen was arrested after trying to get the cops to stop beating me.”

The Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club issued a statement expressing its “great concern” over Lawrence’s “forced detention”: “We hope that the police and authorities will ensure that legitimate journalists can do their duty without facing interference. or excessive use of force”.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has limited itself to commenting on Monday that Lawrence “had not identified himself as a journalist” at the time he was arrested.

The Swiss public television RTS also indicated that its correspondent in Shanghai, Michael Peuker, was “briefly detained” on Sunday night after a connection in which he himself had recounted that he was “surrounded by three police officers” while gesturing at them. trying to ask them to calm down while it was live.

After “many minutes of negotiations” with a local police officer, Peuker and his camera were released, although the agents retained his material to “verify” its content before returning it to the journalists.

A Reuters journalist was also detained for around 90 minutes on Sunday night, before being released, the news agency reports.



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