The Washington Post

Earthquake in Chinese province leads to outcry over covid lockdown

- BY EVA DOU Vic Chiang and Pei-lin wu in taipei, and lyric li in seoul contribute­d to this report.

beijing — An earthquake in southweste­rn China killed at least 65 people this week and sparked criticism about orders for residents to remain in coronaviru­s lockdown instead of fleeing to safety.

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake is the latest challenge for Sichuan province, which has been beset this year by floods, drought, power shortages and onerous pandemic controls. The quake, whose epicenter was in rural Luding County, has also prompted outcry about authoritie­s’ continued prioritiza­tion of coronaviru­s prevention over other emergencie­s.

On Monday, a screenshot of a chat group was widely shared on social media, in which residents in the city of Chengdu were ordered by their building manager to stay in their apartments through the earthquake.

“Everyone, you may not go down the stairs!!” the building manager wrote. “You may not run!!!!”

The screenshot and other similar reports triggered a flood of public criticism, even drawing attention in state media. The official People’s Daily newspaper’s health news platform said one of its reporters had called the building manager involved in the Chengdu incident, who said, “No matter how severe the earthquake is, it can’t be that severe. It’s safest to stay at home.”

Stung by the nationwide backlash, a person claiming to be that building manager later posted online saying that the earthquake was already over when he or she told residents not to run, and that it was just a joke.

Chengdu’s health commission responded to the controvers­y Monday night, saying people’s lives and safety should be prioritize­d in the case of earthquake­s, fires and floods, over pandemic rules.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, gave orders on Monday for rescue efforts to be given top priority in Sichuan. State media reported that more than 50,000 people had been relocated as of Tuesday morning, with more than 1,900 police officers and soldiers dispatched to the scene.

Most of the deaths took place in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, an area of Sichuan province encompassi­ng Luding County, where most of the population is ethnic Tibetan. Some of the worst damage occurred in small towns, where buildings were leveled and roads rendered impassible by rubble.

The local branch of stateowned electric company State Grid reported it had restored power to 20,000 households overnight. Several hundred people remained trapped on an expressway Tuesday morning.

One video in Chengdu showed a crowd of residents at the gate of their apartment complex, arguing to be let out. Employees on the other side refused to open it, with one yelling through a speakerpho­ne that the buildings hadn’t collapsed.

In another video, a man shakes the handle of a locked door, as he and other residents tried to leave their apartment building.

China’s southwest is often hit by earthquake­s. In 2008, tens of thousands were killed when a powerful quake struck Sichuan province. In the aftermath, residents in the affected areas complained of an inadequate official response.

There have been safety concerns surroundin­g China’s inflexible coronaviru­s lockdowns since the earliest days of the pandemic, when residents of Wuhan were confined to their homes for more than two months. Videos circulated of Wuhan pandemic staffers welding shut doors in apartment buildings, raising alarms over what could happen in the case of a fire or other emergency.

At the national level, Chinese officials have been seeking to ease some pandemic restrictio­ns in recent months, as the economy shows signs of distress. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has begun appearing in photo-op meetings with local officials and the public without a mask, in a symbol of a return to normal life. State media has encouraged families to travel for holidays over the summer.

But Beijing ordered fresh controls after a surge of cases, with tens of millions across the country under lockdown. Most residents in Shenzhen, the southern high-tech capital, were ordered to stay at home last weekend. Parts of business metropolis Guangzhou, the Tibetan regional capital Lhasa, and southweste­rn city Guizhou remain under lockdown.

 ?? Cheng Xueli/xinhua News Agency/associated Press ?? Rescuers transfer survivors across a river after an earthquake in Luding County of southwest China's Sichuan province on Monday.
Cheng Xueli/xinhua News Agency/associated Press Rescuers transfer survivors across a river after an earthquake in Luding County of southwest China's Sichuan province on Monday.

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