China quarantine bus crash sparks outrage over ‘zero Covid’ – Times of India


TAIPEI: An overnight bus crash that killed 27 people in southwestern China this week has sparked a storm of anger online over the harshness of the country’s strict Covid-19 policy.
The initial police report did not mention who the passengers were or where they were going, but it later emerged that they were on their way to a quarantine site outside their city Guiyangthe capital of Guizhou Province.
The bus with 47 people on board crashed around 02:40 on Sunday. City officials announced many hours later that the passengers were under “medical observation” and confirmed they were being quarantined.
After public anger, Guiyang fired three officials in charge of the Yunyan district, where residents had been detained, the provincial government said Monday. The Guiyang Deputy Mayor apologized during a press conference, bowed and observed a moment of silence.
Online, many marveled at the logic behind transporting people outside Guiyang and accused the government of moving them so that the city would stop reporting new cases.
“Will this ever end? In the top searches (on social media) there are all kinds of pandemic prevention situations every day, causing unnecessary panic and making people nervous,” one person wrote. “Is there scientific validity to quarantining people, one car after another?”
Guiyang officials had announced that the city would reach “societal zero-COVID” by Monday, a day after the crash.
The phrase means new infections are only found in people who are already under surveillance — such as those in a centralized quarantine facility or who have close contacts with existing patients — so that the virus no longer spreads in the community.
China has brought the pandemic under control through a series of measures known as ‘clearing to zero’ or ‘zero COVID’, enforced through strict lockdowns and massive testing.
The approach saved lives before vaccines were widely available, as people abstained from public gatherings and regularly wore masks. However, while other countries have opened up and eased some of the toughest restrictions, China has steadfastly stuck to its zero-COVID strategy.
Although China has shortened the quarantine time for overseas arrivals and said it would start issuing student visas, domestic policies remain strict. Officials are concerned about the potential death toll and the impact an easing would have on the country’s stretched medical system.
Zero COVID has also become a political issue and was at one point celebrated by many Chinese as a sign of their country’s superiority over the US, which has had more than a million COVID deaths.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has cited China’s approach as a “great strategic success” and evidence of the “significant advantages” of its political system over Western liberal democracies.
But even as other countries open up, the humanitarian costs of China’s pandemic response have risen.
Earlier this year, desperate residents in Shanghai complained that they could not get medicine or even groceries during the city’s two-month lockdown, while some died in hospitals from lack of medical care as the city restricted movement. Last week, residents of the western region of Xinjiang said they were starving under a lockdown lasting more than 40 days.
According to FreeWeibo, a website that tracks censored posts on the popular social media platform, three of the top 10 searches on Weibo related to the bus crash.
Many fixated on images of the bus shared by social media users. A photo showed the bus after it was collected from the accident site. The roof was crushed and parts were missing. Another photo reportedly showed the driver decked out in an all-white protective suit.
Users wondered online how a driver could see when his face was covered and why he was driving so late at night. Many comments were censored, but some expressing their dismay at the current handling of the pandemic remained.
“I hope the price of this pain can bring about change faster, but if it is possible, I don’t want to pay such a high price for such a change,” according to the most-liked comment on an online report about the accident by the state broadcaster CCTV. “Condolences.”
One of the passengers on the bus said her entire building had been placed under central quarantine, according to a report from Caixin, a business news outlet. Still, her apartment building hadn’t reported a single case, according to a friend who shared their texting conversation with Caixin.
Another popular comment quoted a proverb: “These lives are like straw.”
On Tuesday, Guizhou reported 41 new cases of Covid-19 across the province. The province has been on high alert in recent weeks after the discovery of one case in late August. It has locked down its capital, using the euphemistic “quiet period” to describe the move, meaning people are not allowed to leave their homes.

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