Authorities said Saturday restrictions would be eased in parts of Xinjiang, including Urumqi. But the tragedy shocked others who have been holed up in China, who saw it as something that could easily have happened to them.

Francis, a graduate student in the southwestern city of Chengdu, said he was eating at a hot pot restaurant on Wangping Street on Sunday when he heard chants outside of «We don’t want nucleic acid tests, we want freedom!» A video posted online and verified by NBC News showed fellow protesters in Chengdu chanting “Free speech!” and “Freedom of the press!”

Seeing no move from police to disperse the relatively subdued crowd, he and his friend followed her, said Francis, 23, who also asked to be identified only by first name. He said some protesters held up blank sheets of paper, a silent form of protest used to evade censorship, while others lit candles.

“My feeling in this protest is that everyone is dissatisfied with the covid prevention policy, except with expressing their anger” towards the Chinese Communist Party, he said.

For hundreds of millions of Chinese, the «covid zero» measures have meant travel restrictions, sometimes daily tests and the constant threat that they will be sent to government quarantine facilities or suddenly locked up. People in lockdown have complained about a lack of access to food and medicine, and the public has been outraged by non-Covid related deaths of people, including children, whose treatment was allegedly delayed due to the restrictions.

Although many people in China continue to support zero-Covid measures, the policies have also fueled growing resentment, especially when combined with other grievances. Violent protests erupted last week near a factory in Zhengzhou that is the main assembly site for Apple’s iPhone 14, where production has been slowed by the handling of a covid outbreak, labor shortages and disputes. salaries.

Mindful of growing public frustration and the economic cost, Chinese officials announced an easing of quarantine and other measures earlier this month. But they stressed that China was not abandoning «covid zero,» and restrictions were quickly back in place as the number of virus cases increased.

China faces a «very painful» transition as it tries to minimize Covid deaths and infections while keeping life as normal as possible, said Victor Gao, a media spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party.
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China’s National Health Commission reported 40,052 new cases across the country on Monday, setting a record for the fifth day in a row. That’s about the same number of cases reported daily in the United States, which has a quarter of the population of China.

The Chinese government says it is saving lives with its «zero-Covid» strategy, arguing that it shows the superiority of the communist government. While the US has recorded more than a million virus deaths, China’s official toll is 5,232, a figure that could rise exponentially if the fragile health care system becomes overwhelmed with virus cases.

The Chinese government’s success in minimizing loss of life «is something that should be recognized and credited,» Gao said. «No country in the world can do what China is doing.»

But China faces a «very painful» transition, Gao said, as it tries to minimize Covid deaths and infections while keeping life as normal as possible. In addition to making anti-Covid measures more scientific and precise, Gao said, the Chinese government should also focus on increasing the vaccination rate, especially among the elderly.

“This is the time for all of us in China to really help overcome the difficulties and move in the right direction,” he said.

Eric Baculinao, Janis Mackey Frayer, dawn liu, hannah lee, angie ling Y olivia guan contributed.