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China’s major cities under security blanket to prevent more Covid protests

Chinese police were out in force in the capital, Beijing, and Shanghai to prevent more protests against Covid curbs, which have disrupted the lives of millions.

On Tuesday, China’s major cities were blanketed with heavy security. At least one person in the city of Hangzhou was arrested late on Monday, according to social media videos.

Simmering discontent with Covid prevention policies three years into the pandemic ignited into broader protests in cities thousands of miles apart throughout the weekend.

Mainland China’s biggest wave of protests since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago comes as the number of Covid cases hit record highs daily and large parts of several cities face a new round of lockdowns.

The country reported 38,645 new virus cases on Tuesday.

Covid in China keeps spreading despite significant sacrifices made by most of the country’s 1.4 billion people to prevent its transmission, adhering to a zero-Covid policy of eradicating all outbreaks that has isolated China from the rest of the world.

The lockdowns have exacerbated one of the steepest growth slowdowns China has faced in decades, disrupting global supply chains and roiling financial markets.

China relaxes Covid restrictions after wide protests

No sign of backing down

In response to the widespread protest, authorities eased some regulations, but the government showed no sign of backing down on its larger coronavirus strategy.

In Beijing, residents told Reuters news agency that police have been asking people passing through those areas for their phones to check if they had virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Telegram app, which has been used by weekend protesters, residents and social media users said.

VPNs are illegal for most people in China, while the Telegram app is blocked from China’s internet.

In Shanghai, authorities were also making random checks on phones at the People’s Square subway station on Monday evening, an eyewitness told the Associated Press news agency.

Police could be seen on Tuesday morning still patrolling in both cities where some groups on the Telegram social media app had suggested people should gather again. 

In Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern Zhejiang province, videos on social media which Reuters could not independently verify showed hundreds of police occupying a large public square on Monday night, preventing people from congregating.

One video showed police, surrounded by a small crowd of people holding smartphones, making an arrest while others tried to pull back the person being detained.

Hangzhou police did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In Hong Kong on Monday night, about 50 students from mainland China sang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and some lit candles in a show of support for those in the mainland.

A fire last week in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region’s capital of Urumqi that authorities said killed 10 people appears to have been the catalyst for protests in other cities.

Some internet users said Covid lockdown measures hampered rescue efforts. Officials have denied that.

On Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced that it will make “more efforts to ensure the supply of daily necessities, especially for residents in areas hard hit by the Covid-19 resurgence”, according to the state-owned Xinhua news agency.

“More efforts will be made to ensure adequate distribution capacity in closed-off management areas, with priorities given to the elderly, children, pregnant women, patients, and persons with disabilities.”

Deadly fire in Xinjiang stirs anger over China’s zero-Covid policy

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