The Chinese government is continuing to enforce its zero-COVID policy despite shocking nationwide protests against the forced lockdowns—and it pulled stock markets down.
- In the face of mass lockdowns, Chinese citizens have begun protesting in large numbers across the country.
- The U.S. stock market is lower today—the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index dropped 1.5%—which many attribute to the disruption to the Chinese economy.
- Statements from Chinese officials have shown no consideration of policy changes.
- Citizens and police clashed in Shanghai—and the Chinese government has not taken any major steps to quell the protests.
- In addition to physical protests, an increased number of social-media posts criticizing the government are slipping past Chinese censors.
- Protests have been connected to several recent deaths—including 10 killed in a fire that took place in a quarantined building. Some quarantined citizens claim to have been denied access to healthcare.
- Over the weekend, protests spread to eight major Chinese cities including Beijing and Wuhan.
Why it’s news
The Chinese protests mark a relatively rare time of widespread, public disagreement with government policies. Typically, any criticism of President Xi Jinping or his government is quickly silenced.
Some protestors have even started to call for Xi to step down. Since taking power nearly 10 years ago, Xi has not had this level of public disapproval.
Last week, a fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang resulted in at least 10 citizen deaths. The residential area that caught fire was housing quarantined individuals—some who had been on lockdown for over one hundred days. Protestors claimed that restrictions prevented residents from evacuating, though officials have denied this.
Under Xi’s zero-COVID policy, citizens are subject to mass testing and strict lockdowns if even a single case of COVID-19 is reported. Those who test positive or who have been exposed are under strict quarantine either in their homes or in government facilities.
In areas of outbreak—no matter how small—schools and public areas may be shut down. Stores are required to close excluding those that sell food. These strict lockdowns will remain in place until no new cases are reported in the area.
What began as a candlelight vigil for those lost in the recent fire has turned into protests about the severity of the policies and their effect on the Chinese economy. In Beijing, hundreds of protesters reportedly held up sheets of white paper and chanted, “We don’t want Covid tests, we want to eat,” Bloomberg reports.
China has reported lower deaths related to COVID-19 which it attributes to its strict policies. Unlike other nations that have fully reopened, China has a lower vaccination rate than other countries in addition to only using its own less-effective vaccine.
But hours-long protests from hundreds of citizens show that the Chinese people want a change in policies. Social media posts showed Chinese residents taking to the streets calling for Xi’s removal and demanding greater freedom.
In some areas, such as the northwestern city Lanzhou, protestors removed barricades to free quarantined residents and tore down COVID testing kiosks and tents.
College and university students have been especially active in the protests. University officials have called for students to back down with little success.
Police did intervene after several hours of protesting and some protesters were reportedly arrested according to social media posts. However, the lack of government intervention is not likely to last. Onlookers outside of China are watching to see how the government will respond to such overt criticism.