27th November 2022 – (Shanghai) A deadly fire broke out in Urumqi, Xinjiang Autonomous Region recently. It was reported on social media that the community involved in the incident was closed due to COVID-19 epidemic, which prevented fire trucks from entering. Although the government later clarified that the rumours were not true, the local citizens still expressed their dissatisfaction and took to the streets to protest. The incident caused repercussions in various places.
US media reported that last Saturday (26th) about 300 Shanghai citizens gathered on Wulumuqi Road to pay tribute to the victims of the fire in Urumqi. According to the pictures posted on the Internet, citizens brought flowers and waxworms to the scene, demanded that the relevant departments apologise for the incident, and shouted “No nucleic acid, but freedom.” Later, the police officers arrived at the scene and asked the people to leave, but failed. The two sides started a confrontation, and the police officers immediately cleared the scene. Some citizens were interviewed and said that their friends were beaten and pepper-sprayed by the police.
Some at the scene, for example, wore face masks with ‘404’ written on them – referring to the recurring online censorship in light of various epidemic-related incidents (404 is the common error code given when a page or file can no longer be found).
Meanwhile, according to Blomberg, Chinese officials in the capital of western Xinjiang province sought to calm public anger after claims that tough pandemic restrictions increased the death toll from a fire.
In a press briefing held late Friday, authorities of Urumqi city apologised to the public and expressed condolences to victims of the fire. Officials denied online claims that residents couldn’t evacuate because of Covid control measures.