Authorities have eased anti-virus rules in scattered areas but affirmed China's severe "zero- COVID" strategy Monday after widespreadprotest in the country, Associated Press reported.
The city government of Beijing announced it would no longer set up gates to block access to apartment compounds where infections are found. It made no mention of a deadly fire last week that set off the protests following angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls.
Meanwhile, China on Monday dismissed concerns over its controversial zero-COVID policy in the face of unprecedented demonstrations, which have spread to Beijing even as it reported close to 40,000 coronavirus cases and authorities scrambled to contain the fresh surge in infections and protests against the Xi Jinping regime.
The protests, which came nearly a month after President Xi was elected as the ruling party's top leader for a third consecutive term, have spread to Shanghai, Beijing and many parts of the country in the last few days against the stringent policy under which cities and localities are kept under prolonged lockdowns and isolations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also defended the arrest of a BBC journalist covering the demonstrations in Shanghai, maintaining that the scribe did not present his media credentials.
China's National Health Commission said 39,452 new cases were reported on Monday, including 36,304 local asymptomatic cases, as authorities scrambled to contain the fresh surge in infections.
For the fifth consecutive day, China has reported close to 4,000 cases in Beijing.
The protests, which broke out in the eastern metropolis of Shanghai during the weekend, have spread to Beijing where hundreds of people converged on Sunday evening near Liangmahe river in the central city.
Crowds carrying lighted candles in memory of those killed in the fire at an apartment block reported under COVID-19 lockdown in Urumqi in Xinjiang shouted slogans against the arbitrary lockdowns by the government to curb the spread of the virus and in solidarity with the weekend protests in Shanghai.
Several diplomats and foreigners watched the protests as they took place close to the diplomatic residential compound in Beijing.
Eyewitness accounts said the protests went on for several hours and the police detained a number of people.
Protesters in Shanghai on Saturday and Sunday called on President Xi and the ruling Communist Party to step down besides opposing the lockdowns and forcible evictions of people into coronavirus medical shelters.
Students' protests also broke out at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing and Communication University in Nanjing.
Photos and videos posted online showed students holding vigils for the Urumqi fire victims and launching protests at universities in Beijing and Nanjing.
In the latest notice, Tsinghua University has informed students that they can go home if they wish ahead of the January spring festival holidays.
In recent weeks, protests have erupted in Guangdong, Zhengzhou, Lhasa, the provincial capital of Tibet, and other cities, with participants asking for an end to prolonged lockdowns and Covid tests, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Monday.
The People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, Sunday vowed in a front-page commentary to unwaveringly stick with the existing controls to curb the spread of Covid-19, which first broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and then became a pandemic.
In remarks that appeared to aim at widespread doubts and dissatisfaction, it again touted China's self-claimed victory in controlling the pandemic so far and called on party cadres at all levels to resolutely overcome misunderstandings, slackness, and war weariness, the Post reported.
According to the latest estimates, about 412 million people were affected by lockdown measures in China, up from 340 million the week before, according to the Japanese brokerage firm Nomura.
It added that more than one-fifth of China's total GDP-generating sectors across the country are currently under lockdown.
(With inputs from agencies)
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