In China, protests are intensifying against the so-called “zero COVID” strategy, with which the government tries to limit and eliminate any outbreak with very harsh lockdowns and mass tests. In particular, the protests of the last few hours come as a result of the death of at least ten people – on Friday in Urumqi, Xinjiang – for a fire in a building from which many people are believed to have been unable to escape due to coronavirus restrictions. On Saturday evening, the most intense protests were in Shanghai, where hundreds of people, many of whom are described as not yet thirty, gathered in a street that owes its name to the city of Urumqi.
In Shanghai many protesters were holding blank papers (in China white is a color of mourning) and they were intoned several chants against President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China. The police dispersed the demonstrators and, according to some witnesses, arrested and took away some people.
Other demonstrations, less attended than the one in Shanghai, were at the universities of Beijing, Nanjing and Wuhan, as well as in various cities of Xinjiang.
In the latest daily data on infections, China declared 39,506 cases, the highest number since tests began at the end of 2019, after the confirmed daily cases were less than 30,000 at the beginning of the week. With the increase in infections and with a not particularly effective vaccine like the Chinese one, the government is therefore increasing the lockdowns and restrictions again, after the authorities said in early November they would ease them.
The protests, which are also widespread and openly critical of the government and President Xi, are highly unusual in China, a country where dissent is systematically repressed.
In addition to exercising repression, it is likely that – as has already happened on other occasions in the past – the government will try to redirect criticism towards local administrations. However, it is also possible that certain local administrations may in turn try to accommodate those who protest: the local administration of Urumqi, for example, has apologized for the consequences of the fire and has announced its intention to ease the restrictions.