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China and Covid19

The 11.24 Urumqi Fire: Mourning and Anger at Lives Lost in Apartment Building Inferno

As people mourned the victims of the Urumqi fire, they also expressed anger over how the last 100 days of their lives were spent in lockdown.

Manya Koetse



A fire that occurred in Urumqi city, Xinjiang, on the evening of November 24 has triggered waves of mourning and anger on Chinese social media. Ten people lost their lives in the fire, and nine people sustained injuries.

According to Chinese media reports, the fire broke out at 19:54 at the 15th floor of a high-rise residential building in the Jixiangyuan community (吉祥苑小区) in the city’s Tianshan district. The fire further spread up to the 17th floor, with the smoke going up to the 21st floor. It was not until 22:35 on Thursday night before the fire was extinguished.

There have been various reports circulating online suggesting that there was a delay in fire trucks arriving at the scene of the emergency. Obstructions on the road allegedly prevented firefighters from moving forward and the road obstructions (possibly also including pillars and parked cars) had to be removed first. Local authorities are currently investigating the incident.

A preliminary investigation into the cause of the fire indicates that it was of electrical origin, and was caused by a multi-plug power board located in an apartment bedroom. A hashtag related to this received over 220 million views on Weibo on Friday (#乌鲁木齐住宅楼火灾疑因插线板着火引发#).

Image via Phoenix News.

On Weibo, there are many questions and rumors surrounding the incident. Was there indeed a delay in the rescue operation? What prevented the fire trucks from coming to the scene, and why? Was the building in lockdown or not? Did the building management adhere to all fire safety guidelines, or could a potential lockdown have prevented a quick evacuation?

And why were several images of the incident censored on Weibo, where one hashtag about the case received 1.5 billion views (#新疆一高层住宅楼火灾致10人死亡#) (yet did not show up in the top 20 of most popular topics)?

“Over 1.5 billion views, nowhere to be seen in the hot lists..” one commenter remarked.

The fire led to more public attention to the Covid lockdown situation in Urumqi. Urumqi has been in (semi-)lockdown for most of the time since August 10 of this year. The Tianshan District of the city is among one of the areas that have been especially affected by local outbreaks. Last month, locals turned to social media for help and to vent about Covid symptoms, high food prices, boredom and depression, the living conditions in their fangcang (makeshift hospital for Covid-positive isolation), and difficult access to medical care.

As Chinese netizens mourned the victims of the fire, they also expressed anger over how these people spent the last 106 days of their lives in (partial) lockdown. Some posted protest images saying “NO” to excessive epidemic measures.

At the time of the fire, the Jixiangyuan community was officially designated a ‘low risk’ area according to Chinese official media reports, meaning residents should have been able to move around their residential building.

But many netizens pointed out that the community was still labeled as a ‘high-risk’ area according to local epidemic data. At the time of writing, the community is no longer listed among the 66 ‘high-risk’ communities/areas in Tianshan District.

Screenshot shared on social media, showing that the community in question was a designated high risk area.

A screenshot that circulated online shows a WeChat notification of local community staff on November 21, telling residents that positive cases had been detected in the latest nucleic acid samples and that they were required to stay home for three days and that the unit doors would be sealed. This screenshot has not been officially verified or confirmed.

The famous actress and dancer Tong Liya (佟丽娅), who is of Xibe ethnicity and was born in Xinjiang, also posted about the incident. She published an image mourning the victims of the fire, saying she hopes they can rest in peace (#佟丽娅发文悼念乌鲁木齐火灾逝者#).

Besides all the mourning and confusion, there is anger, especially because it has not yet been clarified if the residents who passed away were blocked from leaving their units.

Digital artwork made in response to 11.24 Urumqi fire, original creator unknown.

While waiting for official investigation reports to come out, some are calling out for letting other provinces or regions do the investigation because they are scared the truth might not come out if local officials are in charge of the investigation themselves.

“Last time it was the Guizhou bus, now it is the Urumqi apartment building fire,” multiple commenters wrote. “History keeps repeating itself and it’s the common poor people who pay the price.”

In September of this year, a bus transporting Guizhou residents to a Covid-19 quarantine facility crashed, killing 27 of those on board.

One popular post received over 200,000 likes on Friday, with the blogger writing:

The Guizhou transfer bus incident killed 27; a Chongqing pregnant woman miscarried; a child in Lanzhou died prematurely [link]; those going downstairs during Chengdu earthquake found emergency exits sealed; in Xi’an a pregnant women about to give birth bleeds outside the hospital waiting for nucleic acid results [link]; an Inner Mongolian girl did not get to spend the last moments with her mother who jumped off a building [link]. And here we go again today, with residents burning to death in Xinjiang (…).

On Friday, the Public Security Bureau issued a statement saying a 24-year-old woman had been detained for spreading rumors on Weibo about the Urumqi fire. The woman will be detained for ten days (#女子造谣乌鲁木齐火灾死亡人数被拘#). The woman allegedly spread rumors about the death toll of the incident.

We will post an update to this story once the official report regarding the Urumqi fire comes out. 


On Friday night, around midnight, local officials held a press conference regarding the fire (#乌鲁木齐1124火灾事故发布会#). During the press conference, officials refuted any rumors of the doors in the building being locked. They also confirmed that the building had been designated as ‘low risk’ and that residents were able to go downstairs since November 20.

One comment by an official in the press conference regarding how some residents lacked the knowledge or capability to timely rescue themselves (“部分居民自防自救能力弱”) triggered anger on social media. One commenter sarcastically wrote: “We’re sorry, lacking the knowledge to rescue ourselves, sorry to inconvenience you.”

Private cars parked on road sides, narrow streets, and safety pillars allegedly made it more difficult for fire trucks to reach the scene of the fire.

Within thirty minutes after the press conference starting, a designated hashtag on Weibo had received over 160 million views.

The contents of the stream of comments on Chinese social media directly following the press conference indicated that online anger had not been subdued at all.

“I thought they would come to apologize, instead they came to hold [residents] accountable,” some wrote: “It’s all the people’s fault.”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

For more articles on the Covid situation in China, check here. If you appreciate what we do, please support us by subscribing for just a small annual fee.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar

    we become what we behold

    December 6, 2022 at 8:37 am

    There’s nothing we can do about the passing of those who have passed away. No matter what they do, they can’t go back.

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China and Covid19

Sick Kids, Worried Parents, Overcrowded Hospitals: China’s Peak Flu Season on the Way

“Besides Mycoplasma infections, cases include influenza, Covid-19, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. Heading straight to the hospital could mean entering a cesspool of viruses.”

Manya Koetse



In the early morning of November 21, parents are already queuing up at Xi’an Children’s Hospital with their sons and daughters. It’s not even the line for a doctor’s appointment, but rather for the removal of IV needles.

The scene was captured in a recent video, only one among many videos and images that have been making their rounds on Chinese social media these days (#凌晨的儿童医院拔针也要排队#).

One photo shows a bulletin board at a local hospital warning parents that over 700 patients are waiting in line, estimating a waiting time of more than 13 hours to see a doctor.

Another image shows children doing their homework while hooked up on an IV.

Recent discussions on Chinese social media platforms have highlighted a notable surge in flu cases. The ongoing flu season is particularly impacting children, with multiple viruses concurrently circulating and contributing to a high incidence of respiratory infections.

Among the prevalent respiratory infections affecting children are Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections, influenza, and Adenovirus infection.

The spike in flu cases has resulted in overcrowded children’s hospitals in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Parents sometimes have to wait in line for hours to get an appointment or pick up medication.

According to one reporter at Haibao News (海报新闻), there were so many patients at the Children’s Hospital of Capital Institute of Pediatrics (首都儿科研究所) on November 21st that the outpatient desk stopped accepting new patients by the afternoon. Meanwhile, 628 people were waiting in line to see a doctor at the emergency department.

Reflecting on the past few years, the current flu season marks China’s first ‘normal’ flu peak season since the outbreak of Covid-19 in late 2019 / early 2020 and the end of its stringent zero-Covid policies in December 2022. Compared to many other countries, wearing masks was also commonplace for much longer following the relaxation of Covid policies.

Hu Xijin, the well-known political commentator, noted on Weibo that this year’s flu season seems to be far worse than that of the years before. He also shared that his own granddaughter was suffering from a 40 degrees fever.

“We’re all running a fever in our home. But I didn’t dare to go to the hospital today, although I want my child to go to the hospital tomorrow. I heard waiting times are up to five hours now,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Half of the kids in my child’s class are sick now. The hospital is overflowing with people,” another person commented.

One mother described how her 7-year-old child had been running a fever for eight days already. Seeking medical attention on the first day, the initial diagnosis was a cold. As the fever persisted, daily visits to the hospital ensued, involving multiple hours for IV fluid administration.

While this account stems from a single Weibo post within a fever-advice community, it highlights a broader trend: many parents swiftly resort to hospital visits at the first signs of flu or fever. Several factors contribute to this, including a lack of General Practitioners in China, making hospitals the primary choice for medical consultations also in non-urgent cases.

There is also a strong belief in the efficacy of IV infusion therapy, whether fluid-based or containing medication, as the quickest path to recovery. Multiple factors contribute to the widespread and sometimes irrational use of IV infusions in China. Some clinics are profit-driven and see IV infusions as a way to make more money. Widespread expectations among Chinese patients that IV infusions will make them feel better also play a role, along with some physicians’ lacking knowledge of IV therapy or their uncertainty to distinguish bacterial from viral infections (read more here)

To prevent an overwhelming influx of patients to hospitals, Chinese state media, citing specialists, advise parents to seek medical attention at the hospital only for sick infants under three months old displaying clear signs of fever (with or without cough). For older children, it is recommended to consult a doctor if a high fever persists for 3 to 5 days or if there is a deterioration in respiratory symptoms. Children dealing with fever and (mild) respiratory symptoms can otherwise recover at home.

One Weibo blogger (@奶霸知道) warned parents that taking their child straight to the hospital on the first day of them getting sick could actually be a bad idea. They write:

“(..) pediatric departments are already packed with patients, and it’s not just Mycoplasma infections anymore. Cases include influenza, Covid-19, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. And then, of course, those with bad luck are cross-infected with multiple viruses at the same time, leading to endless cycles. Therefore, if your child experiences mild coughing or a slight fever, consider observing at home first. Heading straight to the hospital could mean entering a cesspool of viruses.”

The hashtag for “fever” saw over 350 million clicks on Weibo within one day on November 22.

Meanwhile, there are also other ongoing discussions on Weibo surrounding the current flu season. One topic revolves around whether children should continue doing their homework while receiving IV fluids in the hospital. Some hospitals have designated special desks and study areas for children.

Although some commenters commend the hospitals for being so considerate, others also remind the parents not to pressure their kids too much and to let them rest when they are not feeling well.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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