Hundreds of people in the Tibetan capital Lhasa have taken to the streets to protest harsh Covid measures, video footage showed, a rare demonstration in the tightly controlled region.

Lhasa has been locked down for nearly three months in accordance with China’s zero-Covid strategy, which sees millions of residents across the country repeatedly restricted to their homes whenever cases rise.

The measures have prompted rare protests in cities such as Shenzhen and Shanghai and many, including in Lhasa, have complained of food shortages and poor conditions in mass quarantine facilities. 

Videos shared on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, showed hundreds of what appeared to be mostly migrant workers of Han Chinese ethnicity marching through the streets of Lhasa on Wednesday, demanding to be allowed to return home.

Those videos and related content were quickly scrubbed from Douyin and the Twitter-like Weibo platform, though some text posts referencing an “incident” in Lhasa remained Thursday.

CCTV camera Lhasa Tibet
A CCTV camera in a street in Lhasa, Tibet. Photo: Woeser.

In one of Wednesday’s videos, hundreds of people are seen in a street blocked at one end by police and hazmat-suited health workers, while an official shouts through a megaphone: “Everybody please understand our work, go home and do not crowd this area.” 

A video shot from another angle showed police vans and officers carrying riot shields stationed nearby.

AFP has geolocated the two videos next to an agricultural market not far from Lhasa’s Potala Palace, the traditional residence of the Dalai Lama and the site of a self-immolation protest by a Tibetan pop star earlier this year. 

There is already a heavy security presence in Tibet, with access to journalists mostly restricted. 

Wednesday’s demonstrations are believed to be the largest since 2008, when large-scale protests against Chinese authorities’ increased repression towards the majority ethnic Tibetan population were violently subdued.

Some social media users suggested police would have cracked down more harshly on the anti-lockdown march had the protestors been Tibetan rather than Han Chinese. 

‘I want to go home’

Other videos showed a night-time confrontation between a large crowd of residents and police in what appeared to be a housing community in Lhasa.

“People have been locked down for too long, the psychological pressure is too much to bear with no income. Many people in our community are also migrants who came here to work and earn money,” one man was heard saying in Mandarin over a loudspeaker.

In one of the videos, a woman among the crowd is heard screaming “I want to go home” at a police officer.

Last month, Lhasa’s deputy mayor apologised for mishandling the outbreak.

China on Friday reported more than 1,000 new infections for the fourth day straight, triggering renewed restrictions nationwide.

Earlier this week, authorities locked down a district of Wuhan — where Covid first erupted in late 2019 — home to 800,000 people. 

Residents in the city of Xining, Qinghai province, complained of dire food shortages after being placed under indefinite lockdown last week.

On Friday, the city of Mudanjiang near the northern border with Russia imposed a three-day lockdown on its two million residents. 

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