The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Protesters in China demand end to country’s strict coronavirus rules

Demands that President Xi Jinping step down are very unusual in China, where protesters are often arrested for speaking out.

Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in Beijing, China, on Sunday. They are angered by strict anti-coronavirus measures and called for China's powerful leader to resign. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Chinese authorities eased some coronavirus rules but affirmed their strategy Monday after protesters demanded that President Xi Jinping resign in the biggest show of opposition to the ruling Communist Party in decades.

The government made no comment on the protests or the criticism of Xi, but the decision to ease at least some of the restrictions appeared to be aimed at calming protesters. Still, analysts don’t expect the government to back down on its coronavirus strategy and note that authorities are skilled at silencing those who don’t agree with the government.

It wasn’t clear how many people were detained since protests began Friday and spread to cities including Shanghai and the capital, Beijing.

The city government of Beijing announced Monday it would no longer set up gates to block access to apartment compounds where infections are found. It made no mention of a deadly fire last week that set off the protests after people questioned whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls.

Authorities in Guangzhou, the biggest hot spot in China’s latest wave of infections, announced that some residents will no longer be required to undergo mass testing. It said the city needed to conserve resources.

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

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

The ruling party promised last month to reduce disruption by changing quarantine restrictions 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 with no symptoms.

The ruling-party newspaper People’s Daily called for its anti-virus strategy to be carried out effectively, indicating that Xi’s government has no plans to change course.

Protests spread to at least eight major cities. Most protesters complained about strict rules, but some turned their anger at Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s. In a video that was verified by the Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” CCP stands for the Chinese Communist Party.

Hours after police broke up the demonstration, people returned to the same spot on Sunday for another protest. Dozens of people were detained in police sweeps and driven away in police vans and buses. The British Broadcasting Corporation said one of its reporters was beaten, kicked, handcuffed and detained for several hours by Shanghai police, then later released.

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