Protests broke out in Xinjiang, China, over the country’s draconian lockdown measures after they contributed to a deadly fire that killed 10.
The fire broke out on a residential block’s 15th floor on Thursday night, spreading upward through the building for three hours before being put out, the BBC reported. Nine more people were injured in the blaze. The high casualty numbers are suspected to have been made worse due to strict lockdown measures, which has resulted in uproar from a populace increasingly bitter over the Chinese Communist Party’s strict “zero COVID” policy.
Officials from Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, where the blaze occurred, admitted in a press conference that rescuers had to remove some lockdown barriers from the exits of the building, but they claimed that this had nothing to do with the slow response time, the Wall Street Journal reported. However, their reasoning, that firetrucks had trouble accessing the building because a key alleyway was blocked with parked cars, also lays the blame on the lockdown measures. Social media users claimed that the parked electric vehicles were out of gas due to the lockdowns, so they couldn’t be moved.
Protests broke out shortly thereafter, with one video showing a deputy Communist Party chief being surrounded by locals demanding an end to the lockdowns.
“It took me five days to recover from COVID,” one woman yelled at the official. “This is enough to go through 20 COVID infections.”
China’s “zero COVID” policy has created a strain on the country’s economy, as well as its urban population, leading the World Health Organization to call on Chinese officials to change course. The Chinese Communist Party has rejected the calls but has urged regional officials to implement more targeted measures that are less disruptive. Thursday’s fire will likely put increased pressure on the CCP to lessen its restrictions.