China steps up security after rare protests over COVID restrictions

  • Shanghai and Beijing police make their presence visible on the streets
  • No sign of new protests in Beijing and Shanghai on Monday
  • The backlash is a setback for efforts to eradicate the virus
  • News of the protests rocks global markets

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Nov 28 (Reuters) – Police patrolled the scene of weekend protests in Shanghai and Beijing on Monday after crowds there and in other cities across China demonstrated against the strict measures of COVID-19 disrupting lives three years into the pandemic.

From the streets of several Chinese cities to dozens of college campuses, protesters have staged a show of civil disobedience not seen since leader Xi Jinping took power a decade ago. During his tenure, Xi has overseen the quashing of dissent and the expansion of a high-tech social surveillance system that has made protesting harder and riskier.

“What we oppose are these restrictions on people’s rights in the name of virus prevention, and restrictions on people’s individual liberty and livelihoods,” said Jason Sun, a student in Shanghai.

There were no signs of new protests Monday in Beijing or Shanghai, but dozens of police were in areas where protests over the weekend took place.

Asked about the widespread anger over China’s zero COVID policy, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters, “What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened.

“We believe that with the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and the cooperation and support of the Chinese people, our fight against COVID-19 will be successful.”

The backlash against COVID restrictions is a setback for China’s efforts to eradicate the virus, which is infecting record numbers three years after it emerged in the central city of Wuhan.

The zero-COVID policy has kept the official death toll in China in the thousands, compared to more than a million in the United States, but has come at the cost of confining several million people to long periods at home, causing major disruption and damage to the second world. -the greatest economy.

Abandoning it would be tantamount to going back on a policy defended by Xi. It would also risk overwhelming the healthcare system and leading to widespread illness and death in a country with hundreds of millions of elderly people and low levels of immunity to COVID, experts say.

The protests rocked global markets on Monday, sending oil prices lower and the dollar higher, Chinese stocks (.CSI300) and the yuan down sharply.

State media did not mention the protests, instead urging citizens in editorials to abide by COVID rules. Many analysts say China is unlikely to reopen until March or April and needs an effective vaccination campaign before then.

“The protests do not pose an imminent threat to the existing political order, but they do signify that the current COVID policy mix is ​​no longer politically viable,” Gavekal Dragonomics analysts wrote in a note.

“The question now is what reopening will look like. The answer is: slow, gradual and messy.”


Late Sunday, protesters clashed with police in the commercial center of Shanghai, where its 25 million residents were stuck at home in April and May, with security forces dragging away a busload of people.

On Monday, streets in Shanghai where protesters gathered were blocked with blue metal barriers to prevent crowds from gathering. Police in high-visibility vests patrolled in pairs, while police cars and motorcycles passed.

Shops and cafes in the area have been told to close, a staff member told Reuters.

While China’s COVID policy has remained a major source of uncertainty for investors, they are now also being watched for any signs of political instability, which many of them had not considered in authoritarian China, where Xi recently won a third term in office.

Martin Petch, vice president of Moody’s Investors Service, said the rating agency expected the protests “to dissipate relatively quickly and without leading to serious political violence.”

“However, they have the potential to be negative if sustained and produce a stronger response from authorities.”


The catalyst for the protests was an apartment fire last week in the western city of Urumqi that killed 10 people. Many speculated that COVID curbs in the city, parts of which had been under lockdown for 100 days, had hampered rescue and escape, which city officials denied.

Crowds in Urumqi took to the streets on Friday. Over the weekend, protesters in cities including Wuhan and Lanzhou toppled COVID testing facilities, while students gathered on campuses across China.

Demonstrations have also been held in at least a dozen cities around the world in solidarity. Read more

Discussions of the protests, along with pictures and images, have sparked a game of cat and mouse between social media users and censors.

In Beijing, large crowds of peaceful people gathered after midnight on a city ring road on Sunday, some holding blank pieces of paper in a protest symbol.

On Sunday in Shanghai, some demonstrators briefly chanted anti-Xi slogans, almost unheard of in a country where Xi has a level of power not seen since the era of Mao Zedong.

As anger over the COVID rules simmers, some have expressed opposition to people taking to the streets.

“These actions will disrupt public order,” said resident Adam Yan, 26. “It is better to believe in the government.”

Reporting by Martin Pollard and Casey Hall; Written by Marius Zaharia and Brenda Goh; Editing by Tony Munroe and Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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