Protesters against Covid restrictions hold blank sheets of paper during a protest in Beijing in the early hours of November 28.
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BEIJING – Rare protests erupted across China over the weekend as groups of people vented their frustration at the zero-Covid policy.
The unrest came as infections rose, prompting more local Covid controls, while a change in central government policy earlier this month had raised hopes of a gradual easing. Almost three years of controls have taken a toll on the economy. Youth unemployment is almost 20%.
People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, ran a front page on Monday about the need to make Covid controls more targeted and effective while removing those that should be removed.
In Beijing, many residential communities have successfully persuaded local government that they have no legal basis for a lockdown. This happened after more and more connections in the capital abruptly prohibited residents from leaving the country on Friday.
On Sunday, local authorities said temporary movement controls should last no longer than 24 hours.
Over the past three days, students at many universities have been protesting, while people took to the streets in parts of Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Lanzhou, among others, according to videos widely shared on social media. The videos could not all be independently verified.
Demonstrations first began in Urumqi, Xinjiang, on Friday after a building fire killed 10 the previous day – in an area that had been in lockdown for months. Narrative on social media focused on how Covid controls prevented residents and rescue workers from saving lives.
Although it is not clear exactly what caused the deaths, local authorities subsequently declared that the risk of Covid had subsided and began to relax controls.
In Shanghai on Saturday, a vigil for the Urumqi deaths became a protest against Covid and the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Some unconfirmed videos also showed calls for President Xi Jinping to resign.
Videos on social media showed police arresting some protesters.
Many of the protesters held up blank white sheets. Some have sung the national anthem and “The Internationale,” a socialist song associated with the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
Notably, social media also showed protesters at the prestigious Tsinghua University on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear if the protests were of significant scale in a country of 1.4 billion people or if a broad demographic took part.