COVID Rules Are Hindering Earthquake Rescue Work in China

Rescue work after China’s most recent earthquake has been hindered by the country’s slavish adherence to a COVID Zero strategy, sparking protests and adding another layer of stress for residents and emergency personnel in the region that has already suffered dozens of deaths.

After a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Monday in China’s vast southwestern region, 140 miles from the provincial capital of Sichuan, COVID controls were put in place to control an emerging outbreak nearby that shut down a city of 21 million people. Officials have been strict in enforcing these rules, despite the difficulties they present for workers who are trying to protect their safety following the disaster which claimed the lives of 74 people. Outside rescuers weren’t allowed entry to the epicenter to help.

The requirements are part of the zero tolerance approach to COVID espoused by President Xi Jinping, who has touted the country’s success in limiting deaths that continue to rapidly accrue in most of the world. However, the policy is a burden on the economy as well as the population. There’s been no relief even during times of crisis, such as the Sichuan wildfire last month when heavily garbed workers conducted PCR tests in front of the inferno.

A temporary shelter was set up in Moxi Town. Luding County is southwest China’s Sichuan Province. It opened Sept. 5, 2022.

Shen Bohan/Xinhua via Getty Images

Daily COVID test

China’s current outbreak, fueled by a more contagious variant that has swept through every province in recent weeks, is posing a challenge to authorities ahead of the Communist Party congress when Xi is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term as the country’s leader. On Wednesday, there were 1,334 reported infections. This is the first month in which cases have exceeded 1,000 per day.

The earthquake shook Luding county. Rescue personnel are required to undergo COVID screenings every day. Entry into indoor areas requires several checks according to a local virus prevention office statement that was later deleted. The local COVID office must approve workers, provide a positive test within 24 hours and issue a green code for entry to the region. According to the statement, they will need to undergo another PCR test in order for them access the restricted area.

Continue reading: Don’t Expect China to Ease Its Zero-COVID Policy Anytime Soon

It occurred after a heatwave and drought that caused power cuts in the region. Chengdu, Sichuan’s provincial capital and home to a famed panda sanctuary, was locked down last week as COVID infections surged.

On September 6, 2022, a damaged building was seen in Moxi, Luding County in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan.

VCG/VCG through Getty Images

Growing frustration at China’s COVID rules

This restriction has caused frustration and anxiety. The local authorities advised residents in the region that they have to learn about COVID controls in new locations and then report back. Only those who have negative results can leave.

People in some neighborhoods weren’t allowed to leave their homes, according to posts and videos circulated on Chinese social media. All of the affected areas were subject to strict restrictions. No external groups were allowed to enter to help with the rescue work at the direction of the COVID prevention department of Sichuan’s Ganzi prefecture, home to the county hit by the earthquake.

Lao Dongyan, a law professor from Tsinghua University, said on the social media platform Weibo that she couldn’t believe the COVID rules for quake rescuers and victims were real. The post received over 3500 comments and was shared 22,000. One said people could die from the earthquake, but they can’t get COVID.

When earthquake shook Chengdu lockdown, people could feel the consequences. They were not allowed to leave their homes for more than a few hours. One social media posting showed the escape of an apartment complex that had been blocked by COVID restrictions, while people tried to get out of the building.

“It’s COVID downstairs (where people line up for COVID tests), and earthquake upstairs (where people feel the tremors),” one social media user wrote in a post.

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