China’s ‘Zero-COVID Uprising’ Is Also a Cost-of-Living Protest

China’s ‘Zero-COVID Uprising’ Is Also a Cost-of-Living Protest
Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they protest zero-COVID policies, Beijing, Nov. 27, 2022 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

The growing popular discontent over China’s “zero COVID” restrictions has now erupted into public protests in cities across the country. The unrest comes in response to a number of unrelated tragic incidents that have occurred in wealthy coastal cities in the south and east to the heavily policed Xinjiang region in the northwest.

The most prominent occurred last week, when a deadly fire in a high-rise apartment in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, claimed the lives of at least 10 people, enraging locals and setting off the demonstrations against China’s coronavirus restrictions. Officials said that it took firefighters nearly three hours to contain the blaze. But Chinese citizens across the country quickly linked the delay in controlling the fire to restrictive pandemic measures, which many claimed obstructed firefighters’ access to the building.

Among the fire’s casualties were Haiernishahan Abdureheman and her four children, whose ages ranged from 4 to 13. Their cousin, Abdulhafiz Maimaitimin, who now lives in exile in Switzerland and last heard from his family in 2017, was distraught when he heard the news. “Five years later, I really could not imagine I would hear about my relatives in this way,” he said.

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