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China vows to increase COVID-19 vaccinations amid protests

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Protesters in Beijing shout while holding blank white pieces of paper during a protest triggered by a fire that killed 10 people. Photo by Mark R. Cristino/EPA-EFE
Protesters in Beijing shout while holding blank white pieces of paper during a protest triggered by a fire that killed 10 people. Photo by Mark R. Cristino/EPA-EFE

Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Chinese health officials said Tuesday they will accelerate COVID-19 vaccination plans for the elderly and ease lockdowns amid growing protests over the restrictions.

The low vaccination rate is one of the prime reasons leaders there have been reluctant to drop the zero-COVID-19 policy, isolating even the smallest outbreaks. The officials have long worried that any changes in restrictions would lead to a wave of new COVID-19 cases.

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Cheng Youquan, an official with the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration, acknowledged that the haphazard nature of the lockdown has caused anxiety and disruptions that "must be corrected and avoided."

Protests have popped up around the country complaining about the lockdowns, calling for the ouster of President Xi Jinping in a rare pushback directly against the Chinese president and Chinese Communist Party.

"China is a country under the rule of law, Chinese citizens enjoy various legal rights and freedoms that are fully protected by law," Chinese health spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. "At the same time, any rights and freedoms should be exercised within the framework of the law."

Images on social media and international news outlets over the past week showed citizens holding up blank sheets of paper, symbolizing the heavy-handed censorship that the government imposes to stifle any dissent.

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Information about the protests, which some are calling the "white paper revolution," has managed to spread on the Chinese Internet despite Beijing's tight control.

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