Chinese authorities on Saturday scaled back coronavirus restrictions in the country’s far western region of Xinjiang after a deadly apartment fire fueled residents’ rage over the city’s months-long “zero COVID” lockdown, triggering a series of late-night demonstrations and protests.

At least 10 people were killed and nine injured when the fire broke out on Thursday in the regional capital of Urumqi, according to the local fire department. It took emergency workers more than three hours to respond and extinguish the blaze, a delay many have blamed on the draconian anti-virus measures.

China eases COVID restrictions after deadly apartment fire triggers protests

Border police conduct vehicle condition checks and safety tips for drivers in Altay, Xinjiang Province, China, Nov 25, 2022. (LIMINGJI/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The city, with a population just shy of 4 million, have been observing lockdown measures since August despite daily COVID cases peaking at about 100. Some residents in the city reportedly had their doors chained physically shut, a severe tactic many in Urumqi suspect could’ve prevented residents from escaping the burning apartment building.

Some have also suggested the death count has been grossly underestimated, but officials have denied the accusations, saying there were no barricades in the building and that residents could leave at any time.

China eases COVID restrictions after deadly apartment fire triggers protests

Workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) ride on a tricycle along a street in Beijing on November 26, 2022. (NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Following the fire, scores of residents bundled up and took to the streets and marched toward the city’s capital building waving signs. One video shared on Chinese social media shows protesters chanting “end lockdowns” and “open up.”

Local government officials during a press conference on Saturday promised they would ease lockdown measures in neighborhoods categorized as “low risk” by authorities “in stages.”

China eases COVID restrictions after deadly apartment fire triggers protests

Security personnel guard an entrance to a residential area under lockdown due to Covid-19 coronavirus restrictions in Beijing on November 26, 2022. (NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Residents in the specified areas will be permitted to leave their buildings in staggered periods of a day, though they won’t be allowed to leave their residential compounds until all compounds in the neighborhood are categorized as low risk.

With News Wire Services

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