China eases some virus checks, searches for pedestrians

BEIJING (AP) — More Chinese cities eased some anti-virus restrictions as police patrolled their streets to prevent protests Thursday as the ruling Communist Party prepared for the funeral of late leader Jiang Zemin.

Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities have announced they are relaxing testing requirements and traffic controls. In some areas, markets and bus service have reopened.

The announcements did not mention last weekend’s protests in Shanghai, Beijing and at least six other cities against the human cost of virus restrictions that have confined millions of people to their homes. However, time and publicity showed that President Xi Jinping’s government was trying to temper public anger after some protesters made the politically explosive demand that Xi step down.

With a heavy police presence, there were no signs of protest. Posts on social media complained that people were being randomly stopped for police to check smartphones, possibly looking for banned apps like Twitter, which they said was a violation of China’s Constitution.

“I am especially afraid of becoming the ‘Xinjiang model’ and being searched under the pretext of walking,” said a post signed by Qi Xiaojin on the popular Sina Weibo platform, referring to the northwestern region where Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are under intense persecution. anxiety. surveillance.

Protesters have used Twitter and other foreign social media to publicize the protests, while the Communist Party has been deleting videos and photos from services inside China.

On Thursday, the government reported 36,061 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, including 31,911 without symptoms.

Meanwhile, Beijing was preparing for the funeral of Jiang, who was the ruling party leader until 2002 and president until the following year. The party announced that he died on Wednesday in Shanghai of leukemia and multiple organ failure.

No foreign dignitaries will be invited in accordance with Chinese tradition, the party announced. He has not yet set a date for the funeral or said how it might be affected by virus checks.

Xi’s government has promised to ease disruption to its “zero COVID” strategy by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But he says he will stick to restrictions that have repeatedly closed schools and businesses and suspended access to neighborhoods.

The protests began on Friday after at least 10 people died in a fire at an apartment building in Urumqi in Xinjiang. That raised questions about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were prevented by locked doors or other controls. The authorities denied it, but the deaths became the focus of public dismay.

The government says it is making the restrictions more targeted and flexible, but a spike in infections since October has led local officials threatened with losing their jobs if an outbreak occurs to impose controls that some residents say are excessive and destructive.

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