Firefighters were apparently blocked from approaching a burning apartment complex under lockdown in the Xinjiang region of northwest China, forcing them to aimlessly shoot water canons at the building from afar.
At least 10 people were killed and nine more injured during the fire, officials said. State media and firefighters report that the fire started on the 15th floor before spreading upward and was likely caused by a malfunctioning power strip.
The precise COVID-19 lockdown status of the neighborhood, in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, remains unclear. State media said the apartment complex’s district was a “low-risk management” area, meaning residents could leave so long as they self-monitored and avoided large gatherings.
But users on Chinese social media questioned that narrative, with some sharing screenshots of communications indicating the district had recently been put under a more stringent lockdown.
Despite announcing a limited loosening of its zero-COVID strategy this month, China has largely continued to implement strict lockdowns when faced with COVID-19 outbreaks, forcing residents to remain in their homes and, in the most extreme instances, triggering food shortages and crippling local economies. Citizens across the country have become increasingly frustrated with lockdowns, sparking protests in a country where dissent can be severely punished.
The fire also focused attention on oppression faced by China’s mostly-Muslim Uyghur minority, which has been the subject of a years-long crackdown. Many China watchers have noted that Xinjiang has experienced hasher lockdown conditions relative to other Chinese regions.
China’s COVID-19 case numbers have hit record levels in recent days. Here are some figures to keep you up to speed:
- 32,000+ new cases nationwide on Thursday, the second straight day case numbers surpassed a prior peak in April, according to CNN.
- 5,232 total COVID deaths since the onset of the pandemic. The three fatalities reported in the past week were the first in six months.
- 100+ days that Urumqi residents have been under some degree of lockdown, multiple local outlets report.
- At least 90 Uyghur Muslim deaths during lockdowns in Xinjiang, Radio Free Asia reports, with many dying from starvation or exposure to disinfectant chemicals.