China police out in force in Beijing and Shanghai as Covid protests quieten

Authorities will hold a media briefing on pandemic prevention and control measures today

A protester holding flowers is confronted by a policeman during a protest on a street in Shanghai, China. AP
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China's biggest cities witnessed heavy security presence on Monday following protests over Covid-19 measures.

Large barriers were erected and security forces deployed in Beijing and Shanghai after crowds gathered at the weekend against continuing virus rules, agencies reported.

China's state council announced it will hold a press conference on the Covid-19 situation on Monday at 3pm local time (11am UAE).

It is the only major economy to still implement stringent measures against the virus, which originated in the city of Wuhan three years ago.

Protests broke out on Saturday after 10 people were killed in a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, Xinjiang province.

Authorities have denied claims that Covid-19 restrictions hampered the rescue and escape effort.

The BBC said one of its journalists was beaten and detained during a protest in Shanghai, while the ministry claimed he had not identified himself as a journalist.

Chinese authorities have begun enquiries into protesters, asking people who attended rallies to submit written records of their weekend activities to local police, Reuters reported.

Others said they were called in by law enforcement demanding to know their movements, AFP reported.

On Monday, the foreign ministry said “forces with ulterior motives” on social media were linking the Urumqi fire to Covid-19 policies.

“We believe that with the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support of the Chinese people, our fight against Covid-19 will be successful,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

Snap lockdowns and mass testing have continued across the country, which has reported record Covid-19 cases for almost a week.

The lockdowns have exacerbated one of the sharpest slowdowns in growth China has suffered in decades.

An influential state media commentator suggested on Monday that Covid controls could be further relaxed, while insisting the public “will soon calm down”.

“I can give an absolute prediction: China will not become chaotic or out of control,” Hu Xijian, a columnist with the state-run tabloid Global Times said on Twitter, which is banned in China.

State outlet Xinhua said its measures are not immune “to alteration and optimisation” but “should not be misinterpreted”.

China “tenaciously pursues the general policy of 'dynamic zero-COVID'”, it said.

“The principle of early detection, reporting, quarantine, and treatment should be strictly observed to curb the scale and reduce the response time of the epidemic,” it added.

“Without those resolute measures, the consequence could be disastrous for a country with 1.4 billion people.”

Without mentioning the protests, there was some sign of easing of Covid-related rules in certain cities on Monday.

Beijing city officials announced an end to gates blocking access to apartment compounds where infections are found.

“Passages must remain clear for medical transportation, emergency escapes and rescues,” said Wang Daguang, a city official in charge of epidemic control, according to the official China News Service.

Guangzhou also announced some residents will no longer be required to undergo mass testing.

— Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: November 29, 2022, 7:26 AM