Anger in China after 27 people killed in Covid quarantine bus crash

Tragedy in Guizhou province became a lightning rod for social media criticism of zero-Covid policy before posts were shut down

Anger has flared among social media users in China after 27 people died when a bus carrying them to a Covid-19 quarantine facility crashed in the south-west province of Guizhou.

With millions of Chinese still under tight restrictions thanks to Beijing’s strict zero-Covid strategy, the deaths in the early hours of Sunday quickly became a lightning rod for criticism of the government. Only two people have died from Covid in Guizhou in the entire pandemic.

“What proof do you have that you won’t be on that bus at night someday?” read one popular post on the Twitter-like Weibo site.

The top-rated reply read: “Who said we’re not on that bus late at night, we’re clearly all there. We’re all on this terrifying, dark bus.”

The bus crash quickly became Weibo’s top trending topic on Sunday afternoon before it suddenly disappeared from the top 50 trending topics.

At least some widely shared and angry blogs on the topic were deleted from WeChat soon after publication, but some reports and comments initially remained, though many of the more critical ones were removed from Weibo.

The crash took place on a highway in rural Guizhou province when the vehicle carrying 47 people “flipped onto its side”, Sandu county police said in a statement on social media.

Twenty people were being treated for injuries and emergency responders were dispatched to the scene in remote Qiannan prefecture, police said.

Photos shared widely on social media on Sunday showed a gold-coloured passenger bus, its top completely crumpled, being towed by a truck.

Another viral photo appeared to show the bus driving at night, with the driver and passengers wearing hazmat suits, which are still commonly worn in China to protect against Covid.

The Guizhou government confirmed later on Sunday that the vehicle had been “transporting people linked to the epidemic to quarantine” from the provincial capital of Guiyang, and that the accident occurred around 2.40am on Sunday.

“At present, on-site rescue work is basically completed, the treatment of the injured and aftercare of the deceased are being carried out in an orderly manner, and the cause of the accident is under investigation,” the local government said on social media.

It was not clear whether the passengers were infected with Covid, close contacts or living in the same building as virus patients. The zero-Covid policy has often seen entire housing compounds of thousands of people relocated to purpose-built quarantine facilities, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away.

Guizhou’s Communist party chief and the provincial governor “rushed” to Qiannan prefecture to direct emergency response work, the local government said, adding the officials “expressed deep condolences to the victims”.

“It is necessary to draw a lesson from the accident, examine the quarantine and transportation of epidemic-linked personnel and hidden dangers in traffic safety ... [and] resolutely curb the occurrence of major accidents,” the statement said.

Guizhou recorded 712 new confirmed cases on Saturday, which made up around 70% of all new cases in China and was a big jump from 154 cases in the province the previous day, China’s national health commission data showed on Sunday. Guiyang, the capital and home to 6 million people, was locked down earlier in September.

Local officials are under pressure to keep outbreaks under control, especially now, in the lead-up to the party congress in October.


Martin Farrer and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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