China’s quarantine bus accident sparks fury over ‘zero covid’ policy

The bus left the Chinese city of Guiyang just after midnight, carrying 45 residents who were put out for preventive quarantine because they were close contacts of coronavirus patients. By 2:40 am, 27 died after the bus rolled into the ditch.

The accident in southern Guizhou province in the early hours of Sunday sparked outrage and grief in China, with many calling it a sad example The toll of the country’s strict epidemic control, The post about the accident on social media platform Weibo had garnered over 1 billion views as of Monday afternoon.

For many, the bus accident was not just a traffic accident: it shows obvious security risks That local authorities across China have repeatedly acknowledged President Xi Jinping’s pursuit of a “zero COVID” policy. Quarantine transport has been routine until late at night, allowing authorities to respond rapidly despite the risk of drivers with low visibility and blurry eyes.

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Videos have circulated to local authorities since the pandemic began welding Despite the danger to the occupants in the event of a fire, the doors of the apartments were closed to ensure lockdown compliance. In Shanghai this year, many residents dead After he was stopped from leaving the lockdown to go to hospitals. In Chengdu this month, building managers told some residents to stay indoors during an earthquake To comply with epidemic control.

For a time, the Chinese public largely went along with drastic measures. But recently, many have begun to question the cost of an approach that bears some hallmark of disastrous campaigns of the past.

Changing public opinion is a challenge for Xi, who looks set to secure a third term next month, setting an example. Although China is not a democracy, Xi has tried to present himself as a ruler who has a mandate to remain at the top. He has emphasized populist policies such as poverty alleviation, anti-corruption campaigns and prevention of coronavirus deaths.

Guiyang officials publicly apologized on Sunday and promised to cooperate with the investigation. On Saturday, before the accident, a local official, Wang Jie, said transportation was necessary because the city had too many close contacts and not enough quarantine facilities. Wang said 19,977 of the city’s 22,696 quarantine rooms were occupied.

China’s biggest coronavirus outbreak in Guizhou has put local officials under heavy pressure to end it ahead of a crucial Communist Party Congress in October. The province of 39 million residents reported 103 symptomatic patients and 2,355 asymptomatic patients on Sunday.

Guizhou has reported only two COVID-19 deaths since the start of the epidemic.

Criticism has mounted within China over the tough measures as other countries increasingly return to normal. Beijing is declared It intends to ease epidemic control to improve quality of life and usher in an economic recovery, but it is unwilling to end its lockdown policy for local outbreaks.

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Chinese official Say they can’t afford a huge wave of Covid-19 deaths like in the west. Under China’s “zero Covid” policy, only 5,226 coronavirus deaths have been officially recorded as of Sunday, compared to more than 1 million in the United States. a peer reviewed study The high death toll in China could be nearly four times the official tally in 2020 and 2021, according to estimates published in the Lancet in April.

Public backlash against the lockdown in China has been widely censored, including on Monday. But many criticisms of the Guiyang government were allowed to circulate, including commentators who are usually pro-government.

Hu Xijin, a former editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times and generally defending the government’s epidemic policy, questioned why the bus was on the expressway after 2 pm, when long-distance buses are prohibited from traveling.

“Why did the city of Guiyang have to move quarantine subjects in a way that suspected serious violations?” He asked in a post on Weibo late Sunday night. “For such massive, long-distance transport, did it really have to be done in such a late night, and was there really no alternative?”

Few details about those killed in the crash were revealed as of Monday afternoon, although an unidentified woman reported her mother’s death on Weibo.

The woman wrote, “She did not go out of the house for half a month except for getting a Kovid test.” “It is inconceivable that he was killed while being taken to quarantine. I cannot accept such an ending.”

The woman did not respond to a request for comment, and the Washington Post was unable to immediately reach other family members of the victims.

Online criticism also focused on the conditions of the quarantine buses. a video Posted on Weibo on Monday, passengers dressed in white and blue hazmat suits rapping on the sides of a bus and shouting to go outside to use the toilet.

Qu Weiguo, a professor in Fudan University’s Department of English, called on the Guizhou government in an online post to release the victims’ names and ages. “Please don’t use that cold label, ‘people linked to the pandemic,'” he wrote, citing the official phrase for those sent to quarantine.

Lirik Lee in Seoul and Pei-Lin Wu and Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.

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