Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China’s leader Xi Jinping to resign on Sunday, as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party.

According to The Associated Press, police using pepper spray drove away demonstrators in Shanghai who called for Xi to step down and an end to one-party rule, but hours later people rallied again in the same spot.

Police again broke up the demonstration, and a reporter saw protesters under arrest being driven away in a bus.

The protests — which began Friday and have spread to cities including the capital, Beijing, and dozens of university campuses — are the most widespread show of opposition to the ruling party in decades.

In a video of the protest in Shanghai verified by The Associated Press, chants against Xi and the Chinese Communist Party sounded loud and clear: “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!”

China remains the only major country still trying to stop transmission of COVID-19. Its “zero COVID” strategy has suspended access to neighborhoods for weeks at a time, with some cities carrying out daily virus tests on millions of residents.

The policy has kept China's infection numbers lower than those the United States and other major countries, but public acceptance has worn thin.

The current protests erupted after a fire broke out Thursday and killed at least 10 people in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi in the northwest, where some have been locked in their homes for four months.

Early Sunday, hundreds of police broke up a more active group of protesters before they came for a second group as they tried to move people off the main street, according to AP.

On Sunday afternoon, crowds returned to the same spot and again railed against PCR tests. People stood and filmed as police shoved people.

Officers in surgical masks and yellow safety vests told the crowd of about 300 spectators to leave but appeared to be trying to avoid a confrontation. There was no sign of shields or other riot gear.