COVID regulations hamper earthquake rescue efforts in China

Rrescue work after of China the last earthquake was prevented by the country’s slavish adherence to a COVID Zero Strategywhich sparked protests and added another layer of stress to residents and emergency personnel in a region that has already suffered dozens of deaths.

After a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit China’s vast southwestern region on Monday, 140 miles from the provincial capital of Sichuan, COVID-19 containment measures were put in place to control an emerging outbreak nearby that shut down a city of 21 million people . Officials are strictly enforcing the rules despite the obstacles they create for workers trying to ensure safety after the natural disaster that claimed 74 lives. Outside rescuers were not allowed into the epicenter to help.

Requirements are part of zero tolerance approach to COVID supported by President Xi Jinping, who has touted the country’s success in curbing deaths, which continue to rise rapidly in much of the world. Politics comes with escalation costs to the economy and people, however. There was no relief even during a crisis, such as last month’s Sichuan forest fire, when workers in heavy clothing conducted PCR tests in front of the inferno.


People hand over relief supplies at a temporary shelter in Moxi city, Luding county, southwest China’s Sichuan province, 5 September 2022.

Shen Bohan/Xinhua via Getty Images

Daily tests for COVID

China’s current outbreak, fueled by a more contagious variant that has swept every province in recent weeks, poses a challenge for authorities ahead of a Communist Party congress when Xi is expected to secure an unprecedented third term as the country’s leader. There were 1,334 reported infections for Wednesday, marking a month in which cases topped 1,000 a day.

According to statement issued by the local virus prevention office, which has since been deleted. Workers must be approved by the local COVID control office, have a negative test result within 24 hours and have a green health code to enter the region. They need one more PCR test to fall into the controlled area, the announcement said.

Read more: Don’t expect China to relax its zero-dealing policy on COVID anytime soon

The earthquake came after a heat wave and drought that caused an energy crisis in the region. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province and home to famous panda sanctuary, was locked down last week as COVID infections spiked.


A damaged building is seen in Moxi Town on September 6, 2022 in Luding County, Garze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China.

VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Growing frustration with China’s COVID rules

Limits woke up frustration and anxiety. Local authorities told residents of the quake-hit region who are trying to stay with friends and family that they should learn and report in advance about the requirements for controlling COVID in the new areas. They can only leave with a negative test result.

People in some neighborhoods were not allowed to leave their homes, according to posts and videos shared on Chinese social media. Restrictions are in place for the entire region. Outside groups were not allowed to enter to help with the rescue work under the guidance of the COVID Prevention Department of Ganzi Prefecture in Sichuan, where the county affected by the earthquake is located.

Lao Dongyang, a law professor at Tsinghua University, said on the social media platform Weibo that he could not believe that the COVID rules for rescuers and earthquake victims were real. Her post was shared 22,000 times and attracted over 3,500 comments, with most agreeing with her and saying the order was crazy. One said people can die from the earthquake but they can’t get COVID.

The potential ramifications of the COVID-19 measures came into stark relief when tremors from the earthquake hit locked-down Chengdu, where people were only allowed to leave their homes at certain times. A widely shared post on social media showed the exit of an apartment complex that was locked down due to COVID controls, even as people tried to escape the building.

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

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