China eases COVID rules after protests, maintains broader strategy

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities relaxed some anti-virus rules but affirmed their tough “zero COVID” strategy on Monday after protesters demanded the resignation of President Xi Jinping in the biggest show of opposition to the ruling Communist Party in decades.

The government had no comment on the protests or criticism of Xi, but the move to ease at least some of the restrictions appeared aimed at allaying anger. However, analysts don’t expect the government to back down from its COVID strategy and note that the authorities are adept at stifling dissent.

It is unclear how many people have been detained since the protests began on Friday and have spread to cities including Shanghai, the country’s financial hub, and the capital, Beijing.

The Beijing city government announced on Monday that it will no longer install gates to block access to apartment complexes where infections are detected. He made no mention of a deadly fire last week which sparked the protests following questions about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other virus checks.

“Passages should be kept clear for medical transport, emergency escapes and rescues,” city epidemic control official Wang Daguang said, according to China’s official information service.

Additionally, the southern manufacturing and trading metropolis of Guangzhou, the biggest hotspot in China’s latest wave of infections, announced that some residents would no longer be required to undergo mass testing. He cited a need to conserve resources.

Urumqi, where the deadly fire occurred, and another city in the Xinjiang region in the northwest announced that markets and other businesses in areas deemed to be at low risk of infection would reopen this week and that public bus service would resume.

“Zero COVID,” which aims to isolate every infected person, has helped keep China’s case count lower than the United States and other major countries. But it confined millions of people to their homes for up to four months, and some complained about a lack of reliable food and medical supplies.

The ruling party promised last month to reduce disruption changing quarantine and other rules. But public acceptance is wearing thin after a spike in infections prompted cities to tighten controls.

On Monday, the number of new daily cases rose to 40,347, including 36,525 without symptoms.

The ruling party’s People’s Daily newspaper called for the effective implementation of its anti-virus strategy, saying Xi’s government does not plan to change course.

“Facts have fully proved that each version of the prevention and control plan has stood the test of practice,” wrote a commentator from People’s Daily.

Protests have spread to at least eight major cities. Most protesters complained of excessive restrictions, but some turned their anger on Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s. In video verified by The Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai chanted Saturday: “Xi Jinping! Resign! CCP! Resign!”

Hours after police dispersed the protest, people returned to the same location on Sunday for another protest. Dozens of people were arrested during police sweeps and chased away in police vans and buses, although the exact number is unclear.

In a sweep witnessed by an AP reporter, officers charged and tackled bystanders at an intersection near where previous protests had taken place, even though the bystanders were not chanting or shouting. their dissent visibly.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said one of his reporters was beaten, kicked, handcuffed and detained for several hours by Shanghai police, then released.

The BBC criticized what it said was an explanation by Chinese authorities that its journalist had been detained to prevent him from contracting the coronavirus from the mob. “We do not consider this to be a credible explanation,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said the BBC journalist failed to identify himself and “did not voluntarily present” his press card.

“Foreign journalists should consciously abide by Chinese laws and regulations,” Zhao said.

Swiss broadcaster RTS said its correspondent and a cameraman were arrested during a live broadcast but released minutes later. An Associated Press journalist was arrested and later released.

Eyewitnesses told the AP of protests that took place in Guangzhou and Chengdu in the southwest. Videos that said they were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Chongqing in the southwest and other cities showed protesters fighting with police in white protective gear or dismantling barricades used to seal districts. AP could not verify that all of these protests took place or where.

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