Most countries in the world have begun the slow climb out of COVID-19, lifting restrictions and encouraging the return to “normality”. China is not one of these countries.
In a bid to prevent any community spread of the virus, China enforced its zero-COVID policy early in 2020.
And it’s still here.
The strict measures locked residents in their homes, barring them from leaving unless there was a medical emergency, and saw constant mass testing. Across the country, entire neighbourhoods have been sealed off (sometimes for weeks with no sign of the end).
Some communities were even unable to receive deliveries.
This approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19 was originally accepted in COVID-19’s early years (when the world was suffering from devastating waves of infections) since it did reduce the number of infections and deaths.
However, now, years after COVID-19 first struck, public consensus regarding this policy has shifted.
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The Almost Breaking Points
Despite most major countries easing out of this period, China is still insistent on its zero-COVID policy.
Till today, residents are still being confined to their homes, sometimes with no warning and most times not knowing when they will be able to leave.
Plagued by lockdowns, horror stories of residents’ experiences being unable to leave their homes are pouring out all over social media.
Videos of walls being built around housing buildings to prevent residents from leaving, reports of people dying of starvation due to not being able to access food and more are racking up public anger in China.
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The Breaking Point
The most recent tragedy of the zero-COVID policy is the deadly fire in Urumqi that took the lives of ten people.
Another nine people were reportedly injured.
Over in Urumqi, many of its four million residents have been living under lockdown conditions.
Video footage of the fire that struck an apartment building show how lockdown measures slowed firefighters from accessing the scene and reaching victims quickly enough.
More footage from social media about this three-hour-long fire also showed how the water sprayed from the fire engine barely reached the burning windows. The dying screams of trapped residents could also be heard.
That was the “breaking point”.
That, and with growing urgency and anger amongst the public, have made people in China hold protests in China’s usually quiet streets.
Across major cities in China, residents are taking to the streets, holding up blank sheets of paper (in opposition to China’s stringent censorship) and papers with the “10” written on them (in honour of the ten who died in the Urumqi fire).
Such mass protests surrounding the same cause sparking in different cities in China are astounding. Most protestors recall the last major protests in China being the Tiananmen Square ones in 1989.
Yet, empowered by the show of strength and solidarity, residents are gathering in crowds, chanting, “lift lockdown for Urumqi, lift lockdown for Xinjiang, lift lockdown for all of China!” and even shouting for Xi Jinping to step down.
University students from Tsinghua University in Beijing were also protesting and shouting, “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression!”
This brave display of opposition and call for action and change is truly unprecedented, given the looming presence of China’s laws and punishment for such displays of civil disobedience.
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The economic and social costs of the zero-COVID policy have hung heavy on the public, and people are now voicing their disapproval of Xin Jinping himself.
China’s government vowed to continue to stick to its zero-COVID policy.
However, it is taking notice of these protests, with authorities promising to improve lockdown policies.
In Urumqi particularly, local government officials have promised to ease its lockdowns in neighbourhoods categorised as “low risk” and “in stages”.
This has not pacified demonstrators. In fact, it has only spurred them on.
The protests have certainly sent waves across the country, enabling others to join in, and it is an optimistic look to the future for change in China.
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