Days of mass protests in China against draconian COVID-19 measures – considered by many to be the largest public demonstration since the student movement of 1989 – led on Wednesday to a relaxation of certain measures in cities like Chongqing and Guangzhou, but prompted tighter controls over protesters in other cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
Rising public discontent
The protests started after several people died in a fire at a residential building in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which had been under strict COVID-19 lockdown for weeks. After an initial vigil in Shanghai on Saturday, demonstrations erupted in various cities across China, with protesters demanding an end to China’s zero-COVID policy. While increased censorship and physical assaults by police against protesters have been reported, no widespread crackdown on the protesters has occurred.
An end to zero-COVID?
While experts have expressed doubts about Beijing bowing to popular protests and fully “reopening” China, a senior health official indicated on Wednesday that the country would enter a “new stage and mission” due to the Omicron variant’s lower virulence. What will happen next is uncertain, but it seems that China will slowly begin to move away from its harsh zero-COVID policy, which has been in place since 2020.