Earthquake rescue efforts in China difficult due to Covid Zero Controls

Earthquake rescue efforts in China difficult due to Covid Zero Controls

Rescue efforts following China’s latest earthquake have been thwarted by the country’s slavish adherence to the Covid Zero strategy, sparking protests and adding another layer of stress to residents and emergency workers in a region that has already killed dozens.

After a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the vast southwestern region of China, 140 miles from the provincial capital of Sichuan, on Monday, measures were taken to deal with a new outbreak nearby that closed the city of 21 million people. Officials strictly enforce the rules, despite the obstacles they create for workers trying to ensure safety after a natural disaster that claimed 74 lives. Outside rescuers were not allowed into the epicenter to provide assistance. The demands are part of a zero-tolerance approach to Covid taken by President Xi Jinping, which has touted the country’s success in limiting deaths, which continue to rise rapidly in most of the world. However, this policy comes at a cost to the economy and people. There has been no relief even in times of crisis, such as the Sichuan wildfire last month, when workers in heavy clothing performed PCR tests in front of the fire.

Sweeping through

The current outbreak in China, fueled by a more contagious variant that has gripped every province in recent weeks, is challenging authorities ahead of the Communist Party Congress, when Xi is expected to win an unprecedented third term as the country’s leader. On Wednesday, 1,334 infections were reported, marking a month in which the number of cases exceeded 1,000 per day.

In Luding County, where the quake hit, rescuers are required to take Covid tests daily and entry to indoor areas requires multiple checks, according to a statement released by the local virus prevention department, which has since been deleted. Workers must be approved by the local Covid control office, test negative within 24 hours, and have a green health code to enter the region. The statement says they need another PCR test to get into the controlled area.

The earthquake came after a heat wave and drought that caused power outages in the region. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and home of the famous panda sanctuary, was closed last week due to a surge in Covid infections.

Growing frustration

The restrictions have caused frustration and anxiety. Local authorities have told residents of the earthquake-hit region who are trying to stay with friends and family that they should learn and report ahead of time about Covid control requirements in new areas. They can only leave with a negative test result.

According to messages and videos circulating on Chinese social media, people in some areas were not allowed to leave their homes. Restrictions were imposed on the entire region. No outside groups were allowed to enter to assist in the rescue work as directed by the Covid Prevention Department of Ganzi Prefecture, Sichuan Province, where the earthquake-hit county is located.

Lao Dongyan, a law professor at Tsinghua University, said on the Weibo social media platform that she cannot believe the Covid rules for rescuers and earthquake victims are real. Her post was shared 22,000 times and garnered over 3,500 comments, most of which agreed with her and called the order crazy. One said that people can die from an earthquake, but they cannot get Covid.

The potential impact of the Covid measures became apparent when the tremors from the earthquake hit the closed off Chengdu, where people were only allowed to leave their homes at certain times. A widely shared social media post showed an exit from an apartment complex that was blocked due to Covid control, even as people attempted to escape the building.

“It’s Covid downstairs (where people line up for Covid tests) and an earthquake upstairs (where people feel the jolts),” wrote one social media user.

About the photo: Rescuers carry a victim after the September 6 Sichuan earthquake. Source: CNS/AFP/Getty Images

Copyright 2022 Bloomberg.

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