Updated Nov 27, 2022 - World

China's COVID frustration boils over, protestors call for Xi to resign

A near-deserted pedestrian mall in Beijing, China, on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

A near-deserted pedestrian mall in Beijing. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Public outrage over new COVID-19 lockdown restrictions has fueled rare protests within China, with residents demanding the government to lift restrictions ahead of schedule and some calling for President Xi Jinping's resignation.

Driving the news: Record-breaking case numbers have caused a "COVID storm" to overtake China, impacting the country's economic prospects and fueling public unrest.

The big picture: The protests are the latest sign of building frustration with the government's intense approach to controlling COVID. China is the only major country that still is fighting the pandemic through lockdowns and mass testing, per AP.

  • The new round of lockdowns has fueled protests across the western Xinjiang region and the country's capital of Beijing, Reuters reports.
  • Crowds marched on the streets, chanting "End the lockdown!"
  • Residents in Beijing confronted officials about lifting lockdowns, with some being successful in getting their restrictions lifted early, per Reuters.

Zoom in: Videos across social media show people in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, chanting against the COVID restrictions after an apartment fire killed 10 people, according to the Wall Street Journal.

  • Some protesters believe the victims of the deadly fire could not leave their homes due to the lockdown, but officials deny that restrictions stopped anyone from exiting the building, BBC News reports.
  • "The Urumqi fire got everyone in the country upset," Sean Li, a resident in Beijing, told Reuters.
  • In Shanghai, China's financial capital and largest city, hundreds of people gathered Saturday night to mourn those killed in an apartment fire in Urumqi, CNN reported.
  • Some of the protesters held blank sheets of paper — a protest of censorship — and chanted, "need human rights, need freedom." Other protesters called for Xi and the Communist Party to "step down" while still others shouted, "don't want dictatorship, want democracy!"
  • The protest dispersed after police arrested several protesters. On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of Shanghai residents gathered again amidst heavy police presence, with some shouting, "release the people!" CNN reported.

Flashback: Urumqi has faced COVID restrictions since early August, according to WSJ. The city shut down transportation, which left some tourists stuck there.

  • Officials have promised the lockdown will lift soon, but said they are waiting from Beijing for more orders on how to implement COVID protocols in the future, per WSJ.

Context: China's "Zero COVID" policy uses lockdowns and city restrictions in an attempt to hold off the spread of the coronavirus.

  • At the beginning of the pandemic, many residents said the government had protected the people through the policy. But now, it's led to this civil unrest.
  • The Chinese government faces a choice of whether to continue the lockdowns and face civil unrest or learn to live with the virus.

Our thought bubble via Axios' Bethany Allen: Protests in Xinjiang, where security forces and surveillance cameras blanket the region and many ethnic minorities have been swept up into internment camps, are even rarer than in the rest of China — suggesting the level of desperation that might drive residents to protest despite the risk of being detained.

More from Axios:

China's COVID storm

WHO chief: China's zero-COVID strategy not "sustainable"

China's "zero COVID" challenge is getting tougher

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