As disaster strikes the southwest of China’s Chengdu capital, residents are left reeling from a fixation on pandemic restrictions in the midst of an emergency.
One of the most powerful earthquakes to strike southwestern China’s Sichuan province in five years, left the trouble-struck provincial capital of Chengdu reeling on Monday.
The epicenter of the 6.8-magnitude earthquake, located in a remote mountainous area in Luding County, 226km southwest of Chengdu, has left in its wake a death toll of 66 with rescuers searching for 16 missing. More than 170 people are reported injured with some 50,000 evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon. Roadways and buildings in towns throughout the area bore heavy damage from the strike, which also led to power and communication outages.
In a region racked by floods, heat waves and drought, as well as power shortages (with or without a quake), Monday’s tremor triggered criticism of the government’s stringent lockdown measures that remained a priority even during an emergency not pandemic related.
Netizens shared stories and video footage of reprimands from epidemic prevention control workers when they tried to escape the confines of their homes to flee to safety, with emergency exits blocked in some cases. One example showed the manager of a building demanding tenants stay inside their apartments throughout the earthquake’s duration and insisting “that there can be no compromise or relaxation of quarantine measures.” Some residents argue they shouldn’t have to worry about the legal implications of their natural right to fend for themselves in an emergency situation like an earthquake.
The Institute of Disaster Prevention, an arm of the China Earthquake Administration, reportedly advised citizens just last week that they could go outside provided they wore masks and practised physical distancing. Chengdu’s Municipal Health Commission is said to have later “echoed” that message in a new guidance that tentatively allows for evacuation during a disaster “when conditions permit.”
Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, has remained under a tight pandemic lockdown since last week, with some 21 million people confined to their homes.