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Outcry as Chinese lockdown traps residents during earthquake

todaySeptember 6, 2022 3

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By Frances Mao

BBC News

Media caption,

Watch: China earthquake rocks town in Sichuan

Footage showing that some residents in the earthquake-hit Chinese city of Chengdu were stopped from fleeing their compounds due to a Covid lockdown has sparked anger and disbelief online.

Some in Chengdu say they were told to stay inside through a 6.6-magnitude earthquake on Monday that has killed at least 65 people.

Those that ran out say they found the exits shut due to Covid restrictions.

Chengdu, home to 21 million people, is currently under strict lockdown rules.

China has a so-called zero Covid-19 policy, meaning that lockdowns are routinely imposed in communities when cases of the virus are detected.

In some instances, apartment buildings where at least one person has tested positive for Covid have been designated “sealed areas” – where residents are forbidden from setting foot outside their homes whether or not they have the virus.

In one, a man swears at security guard, rattling what appears to be his apartment gates and trying to open it, shouting: “Hurry up, open the door, it’s an earthquake!” In response, the guards say: “It’s over, the earthquake’s already over.”

Image source, Douyin

Image caption,

This video showed residents behind gates asking to be let out

Another video claims to be an audio recording of a loudspeaker message that said: “Go back home and do not gather here, it’s just an earthquake. We [here in Sichuan] have a lot of experience [when it comes to earthquakes].”

One man told the BBC he had run out of his 30-floor building after feeling the earthquake’s tremors. When he realised he was trapped, he raised complaints among the crowd gathered at the gates.

“Which one is more important? The lockdown or the earthquake?” Lu Siwei, a lawyer in Chengdu, had shouted.

He says his neighbour replied: “Do not incite emotions and do not talk politics.” After several heated rounds, Mr Lu says the man then physically assaulted him.

There have been no reports linking any fatalities from the quake to the restrictions on compounds, but such reports have sparked overwhelming criticism from those on microblogging site Weibo.

“It’s a joke that we have to discuss such a question,” said one commentator under a post from a local news site which quoted a lawyer saying citizens were “constitutionally” free to flee to safety. The post had received over 3.7 million views by Tuesday.

“I guess it’s fine if I die inside the building, at least I didn’t get infected,” said another comment sarcastically.

The Chengdu Health Commission later posted on its official WeChat account that “priority should be given to safeguarding the lives of the public in the event of earthquakes, fires, floods and other disasters”.

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, has been beset by a heatwave and drought this summer and last week was plunged into a lockdown after an increase in Covid cases.

China’s Covid policies require cities to enter strict lockdowns – even if just a handful of cases are reported.

However, Beijing’s drive to ensure “zero Covid” has prompted rare public dissent from citizens.

China is the world’s last major economy attempting to entirely stamp out Covid outbreaks, claiming this is necessary to prevent wider surges of the virus which could overwhelm hospitals.

The country has officially recorded fewer than 15,000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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