1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Nationwide protests in China call for easing COVID curbs

November 27, 2022

Protesters are demanding the easing of COVID restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai. People also took to the streets in the northwestern Xinjiang region after deaths in an apartment fire were blamed on lockdowns.

A man is arrested during a protest against China's zero-Covid policy
A man is arrested during a protest against China's zero-Covid policyImage: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

Authorities in China's western Xinjiang region opened up some neighborhoods in the capital of Urumqi on Saturday after hundreds of residents held extraordinary late-night protests against a strict COVID-19 lockdown that has been blamed for causing the deaths of 10 people in an apartment fire earlier this week. 

Xinjiang officials said Sunday that public transport services would gradually resume from Monday in Urumqi. However, the frustration over lockdowns, and the apartment fire, has spread elsewhere in China, with protesters in several cities taking to the streets. 

In the Chinese capital Beijing, large areas of the city are under lockdown, prompting some residents to stage small-scale protests or confront local officials.

Protests in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities

Hundreds of students from Beijing's elite Tsinghua University protested against COVID lockdowns on Sunday, holding up signs at the entrance of the university's canteen, AFP news agency reported, citing witnesses. 

Another video shared with Reuters news agency showed Beijing residents in an unidentified part of the city marching around an open-air car park on Saturday, shouting "End the lockdown."

Beijing health authorities reported 2,454 new COVID-19 cases in the past 15 hours on Saturday.

Angry crowds also took to the streets of Shanghai, China's most populous city, on Sunday, with protesters confronting police.

In a video widely shared on social media, some protesters can be heard chanting "Xi Jinping, step down... CCP, step down," in a rare display of public opposition to the country's leadership. Shanghai already endured a strict two-month lockdown earlier this year. 

The Associated Press (AP) news agency reported that Shanghai police used pepper spray against about 300 protesters as they gathered Saturday night to mourn the deaths of those who lost their lives in the Urumqi apartment fire. 

Other videos posted on social media from the central cities of Wuhan and Chonquing showed protesters gathering in the streets on Sunday. 

A man holds up a piece of paper next to a police officer
Public protest in rare in China, where authorities frequently crack down on dissentImage: DW

China COVID cases rise

China as a whole reported a fourth straight daily record of 39,791 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, of which 3,709 were symptomatic and 36,082 were asymptomatic. Under China's "zero-COVID" policy, authorities take extreme measures to stamp out virus hotspots.

The current heavy caseload has prompted widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business. Shenzhen, the third most populous city after Shanghai and Beijing, will limit restaurant and other indoor venues to 50% occupancy as part of COVID prevention measures. New arrivals to the southern city will be barred from entering venues such as theaters and gyms for the first three days.

China is now the only major country in the world that still is fighting the pandemic through mass testing and lockdowns.

Authorities insist that President Xi Jinping's zero-COVID policy is life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the health care system.

Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world's second-biggest economy, with production and exports being hit affected by locked-down factories. 

However, the explosion of criticism marks a sharp turn in public opinion. Early on in the pandemic, China's approach to controlling COVID-19 was hailed by citizens as minimizing deaths at a time when other countries were suffering devastating waves of infections.

Xinjiang protest after apartment fire deaths 

After the deadly apartment blaze, Chinese media showed footage of people breaking through metal fences in Urumqi. Some of them can be heard shouting "end the lockdown."

A screen shot of protests in Urumqi
Protests against outbreak measures in Urumqi city, XinjiangImage: Video Obtained via REUTERS

Reports said that emergency workers took three hours to extinguish the blaze — a delay the public has attributed to obstacles caused by coronavirus curbs.

Social media users speculated that residents struggled to escape in time because the building was partially locked down. Some residents elsewhere in the city have had their doors chained physically shut.

Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday to deny COVID measures had hampered escape and rescue.

Given China's vast security apparatus, protests are risky anywhere in the country, but they are extraordinary in Xinjiang, which for years has been the target of a brutal security crackdown on the region's 10 million Uyghur Muslims.

A firetruck sprays water at an apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang region
Ten people died in the fire at an apartment block in lockdownImage: UGC/AP/dpa/picture alliance

rm,mm/sri,wmr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)