Residents of Urumqi were angry after a fire that left 10 dead in a residential building that was closed off due to China’s zero-COVID policy.
A fire that killed 10 people in China’s Xinjiang region has sparked anger over its zero-COVID policy as Beijing draws increasing public disapproval for its crackdown on stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
Ten people were killed and nine injured in a fire at a residential building in the northwestern capital of Urumqi on Thursday evening, the state news agency Xinhua reported.
Chinese and foreign social media posts released since Friday claimed rescue efforts were hampered due to COVID lockdowns and residents were unable to escape in time.
China’s COVID policies have sparked public frustration, with some videos appearing to show crowds of people protesting the policies on the streets of Urumqi, following demonstrations in other cities.
China has placed the vast Xinjiang region, home to 10 million Uighurs, under one of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s four million residents banned from leaving their homes for 100 days.
A large crowd has surrounded the municipal government building in Urumqi (Xinjang’s largest city).
It is a rare case of a joint Uyghur & Han protest against the authorities.
It comes after 10 people died in a fire at a high-rise building under lockdown.pic.twitter.com/lmXcHQ5Ggp
— Visegrad24 (@visegrad24) November 25, 2022
While the rest of the world lives with COVID-19, China is holding on to a strict “zero-COVID” strategy that relies on rapid lockdowns, mass testing, extended quarantines and border controls to stamp out the virus wherever it emerges.
Videos of the protests are circulating on the internet. One showed people in a square singing China’s national anthem that read, “Arise, those who refuse to be slaves!”, while others shouted to be released from lockdowns.
Another video shows dozens of people marching through a neighborhood in the east of the city, shouting the same slogan before confronting a line of hard-wearing officials and security personnel.
Reports on Chinese social media platform Weibo said rescue vehicles could not get past electric cars to get to the residential building that was on fire. Rescue workers and residents were unable to move the cars that were not charged due to the lockdowns.
Li Wensheng, head of the fire and rescue services, said “a lack of parking spaces and a large number of private vehicles parked on both sides” delayed rescue efforts, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Urumqi police said in a Friday post on Weibo that they have detained a woman for “spreading rumors online” about the number of victims of the blaze.
Urumqi mayor Maimaitiming Kade issued a rare formal apology but denied allegations online, including that residents’ doors had been locked with iron wiring.
“Some residents’ ability to save themselves was too weak… and they couldn’t escape in time,” Wensheng said.
But social media posts showed that many residents were confined to their homes due to COVID-19 controls.
China reported more than 32,000 infections in the past 24 hours on Friday, up from more than 31,000 reported on Thursday. The vast majority of cases were asymptomatic.
The numbers on Thursday and Friday surpassed a previous record of just under 30,000 cases in April. That increase resulted in the commercial center of Shanghai, where 25 million people live, being closed for two months.
The latest wave was accompanied by restrictions that were slowly tightened across the country.