BEIJING – A bus carrying dozens of people to a quarantine facility crashed over the weekend in southwestern China, killing at least 27 of them and sparking a painful new debate. suffering about Covid’s zero-tolerance policies in the country.
According to local authorities, the bus was carrying 47 people from Guiyang city when it took off at around 2:40 a.m. Sunday, about 100 kilometers southeast of the city. In addition to the 27 people killed, 20 other passengers on board were injured.
Much of Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, has been on lockdown since earlier this month, after hundreds of coronavirus cases were detected there. Under China’s “zero Covid” policy, just a handful of cases is enough to trigger mass quarantines and testing – an approach increasingly adopted by Chinese, as the rest of the world moving towards living with the virus.
On Saturday, the day before the accident, the Guiyang authorities speak that they sent people to other cities to be quarantined, because there were too many of them not enough for the facilities in Guiyang to accommodate.
After the crash, officials did not say why the people on the bus were quarantined, such as whether they tested positive for the virus or were in contact with people who were sick. ; they only said that the passenger was “involved in the epidemic.”
When news of the accident surfaced, Chinese social media erupted into fierce debate over whether the country’s Covid policies were to blame. Users ask if passengers need to transfer and why are buses running on the road so late at night, when Chinese traffic laws prohibit most long-distance transport from 2 to 5 hours shining. Some say such a tragedy could have happened to anyone, given the government’s decision to drop cases and the inability of ordinary people to fight it.
And many ask a question that has become a familiar one in China, as shutdowns across the country have led to food and medical shortages, the separation of parents from their children and crisis. Mental health crisis: Will the government pay the price for “zero Covid” or not take it too seriously? (Guizhou province has only recorded two coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began.)
Nie Riming, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, wrote in a widely shared online articles that the crash “was not an isolated incident.”
“Many cities, while controlling the outbreak, have broken laws and regulations many times,” Nie wrote. “The only difference is that the accident hasn’t happened in other cities yet.”
Moderators deleted many angry comments about the crash, as well as entire accounts of several users who shared their outrage or grief. Reflecting on how polarized and politicized the Covid debate in China has become, some social media users hit back at their critics, saying that those who could turn a case against the virus. Traffic accident into a political debate must be the servant of Western forces.
Chinese authorities have long been wary of massive waves of public grief, often associated with calls for accountability and shaking public confidence in the government. But officials are now on particularly high alert, with a major congress of the Chinese Communist Party due next month, at which China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is expected to announce an unprecedented third term.
Local governments were already under great pressure to contain any outbreaks before that meeting, as Xi personally emphasized the importance of “zero Covid”. Guizhou has pledged to essentially eliminate cases on Monday.
At a press conference on Sunday evening, Vice Mayor Guiyang speak officials “deeply regret” the accident and “sincerely apologize to the entire society.” Authorities in Guizhou province have promised to open an investigation, and three local officials were suspended on Monday. But officials did not give a reason for the crash or whether any traffic laws were violated.
Many social media users dismissed the apology as empty. “Can an apology replace the law?” He Guangwei, a well-known journalist, wrote on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform.
Guizhou’s lock was broken by problems even before the accident happened. The government was forced to apologize on September 8, shortly after the city closed, after many residents reported food shortages. Officials say Covid restrictions have caused shortage of delivery staff.
Residents also complained about unsanitary or poor quality conditions at quarantine facilities, prompting local authorities to admit that the conditions are “uneven.” Chinese authorities have refused to allow home quarantine.
Last weekend, the Communist Party secretary of the city, Hu Zhongxiong, Is called for residents to be sent to quarantine more quickly, urging the same-day transfer. By Saturday afternoon, more than 7,000 people had been removed from Guiyang, with nearly 3,000 more in the process of being moved out, officials said.
A few hours later, 10 minutes after midnight, the bus departed from Guiyang.
Vivian Wang reports from Beijing and Joy Dong from Hong Kong. Li You and Zixu Wang Contributing research.