Xinjiang officials seek to calm lockdown anger after deadly fire

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Chinese officials in the western provincial capital of Xinjiang sought to calm public anger following a fire whose death toll some claimed was made worse because of tough coronavirus restrictions.

In a press briefing held late Friday, authorities of Urumqi city apologized to the public and expressed condolences for victims of the deadly fire.

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Officials denied online claims that residents couldn’t evacuate because of Covid control measures.

Videos circulating on Chinese social media purportedly showed people demonstrating on the street in Urumqi.

One clip posted to Twitter showed protests in front of what appears to be a city government office, with people chanting “end the lockdown!” Other clips showed the protesters being stopped by police. Bloomberg was not immediately able to verify the posts.

The blaze, which broke out in a high-rise building on Thursday evening, took nearly three hours to extinguish and left at least 10 dead, according to Xinhua News Agency.

A public outcry on Chinese social media followed shortly after, with people asking whether Covid restrictions might have blocked access in and out of the building and delayed the rescue efforts.

Some posted videos that appeared to show fire trucks struggling to get close to the building and spraying water from a distance because of barriers on the ground.

Initial checks found no cases of floors being locked by iron wires in the compound, nor blockades barring the building’s unit doors and resident doors at the time of the fire, the government said earlier.

Some residents had insufficient “awareness of self protection and self rescue,” the city’s head of fire rescue team said, adding that people in the building failed to take effective actions to put out the fire and run in time to safety.

Local police have moved fast to quash any act of circulating rumors. A 24-old woman faces a 10-day detention for spreading false information on social media about the death toll from the fire, Urumqi police said Friday in a statement, adding that residents should boycott online rumors and maintain “a benign pandemic control order.”

Xinjiang, which has been under lockdown since early August, reported 967 cases of new coronavirus cases on Friday, official figures show. That’s out of a record 34,202 new infections across the country.

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