Beijing: Chinese authorities have started inquiries into some of the people who gathered at weekend protests against COVID-19 curbs, people who were at the Beijing demonstrations told the media, as police remained out in numbers on the city’s streets.
Two protesters reported that callers who identified themselves as Beijing police officers asked them to report to a police station on Tuesday with written accounts of their activities on Sunday night. One student also said that he was asked by his college if he was in the area where the protest took place and to provide a written account.
“We are all desperately deleting our chat history,” said another person who witnessed the Beijing protest and declined to be identified. The person said the police asked how they heard about the protest and what was their motive for going.
It was not clear how the officials identified the people they wanted to question about their participation in the protests, and it was not clear how many such people the authorities aimed to question.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said rights and freedoms must be practiced within the framework of the law.
Simmering discontent with stringent COVID prevention strategies three years into the pandemic ignited protests in cities thousands of miles apart over the weekend.
China’s biggest wave of civil disobedience since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago comes as the number of COVID cases hit record daily highs and large parts of several cities confront new lockdowns.
A health official said complaints about COVID controls were mainly about their inflexible execution.
“The problems highlighted by the public are not aimed at the epidemic prevention and control itself, but focus on simplifying prevention and control measures,” Cheng Youquan told reporters, adding that authorities would address urgent concerns.
Authorities in the southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong announced on Tuesday night that they would allow close contacts of COVID cases to quarantine at home after health authorities called for more targetted measures.
COVID has spread regardless of China largely isolating itself from the world and demanding significant sacrifices from its population to comply with frequent testing and prolonged isolation.
The lockdowns have exacerbated one of the sharpest slowdowns in growth China has suffered in decades, disrupting worldwide supply chains and bothering financial markets.
Chinese stocks and the yuan rallied as investors bet signs of civil discontent could prompt an easing of the curbs and cheered a relaxation of regulations on developer fundraising.
China’s blue-chip index CSI300 (.CSI300) rose 3% for its best session in three weeks, the Shanghai Composite Index (.SSEC) gained 2.3% to hit a two-month high and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng (.HSI) shot up by 5%.
Plans to boost the vaccination rate among the elderly also helped lift market sentiment.
In Shanghai and Beijing, police were patrolling areas where some groups on the Telegram messaging service suggested people could not gather again. Police presence on Monday night ensured that no gathering took place.
“It’s really scary,” said Beijing resident Philip Qin, 22, referring to a large number of police on the streets.
Police have been asking people passing through the areas for their phones to see if they have access to virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Telegram app, which has been used by protesters, residents said. VPNs are illegal for most people in China, while the Telegram app is blocked from China’s internet.
Some protesters used dating apps to avoid censorship and police scrutiny.
The fire was the spark for protests last week in the western city of Urumqi which officials said killed 10 people.
Some internet users said that the COVID lockdown measures hampered the effort to rescue people in the burning building. The officials have denied this.