Outcry as China lockdown traps residents during earthquake

Footage showing some residents of the earthquake-hit Chinese city of Chengdu stopped from leaving their premises due to the Covid lockdown has sparked outrage and disbelief online.

Some in Chengdu say they were told to stay inside after a 6.6 magnitude earthquake killed at least 65 people.

Those who ran out say they found the exits closed due to Covid restrictions.

Chengdu, home to 21 million people, is currently under strict quarantine rules.

China has a zero-sum policy on Covid-19, meaning that lockdowns are routinely imposed on communities when cases of the virus are detected.

In some cases, blocks of flats where at least one person has tested positive for Covid have been designated as ‘sealed areas’ – where residents are banned from stepping foot outside their homes whether they have the virus or not.

Videos shared on Douyin, China’s TikTok platform, show panicked residents behind chained gates, shouting to be let out.

In one, a man curses at the security guard, rattles the gates of his apartment and tries to open it, shouting: “Quick, open the door, there’s an earthquake!” In response, the guards say, “It’s over, the earthquake is already over.”

Another video claims to be a recording of a loudspeaker message saying: “Go back home and don’t gather here, it’s just an earthquake. We [here in Sichuan] they have a lot of experience [when it comes to earthquakes].”

One man told the BBC he ran out of his 30-storey building after feeling the tremors. When he realized that he was trapped, he raised complaints from the crowd that had gathered at the gates.

“Which is more important? The lockdown or the earthquake?” Lu Siwei, a lawyer in Chengdu, had shouted.

His neighbor reportedly responded by saying, “Don’t stir up feelings or talk politics.” After several heated rounds, Mr Lu says the man physically assaulted him.

There have been no reports linking casualties from the earthquake to restrictions on compounds, but such reports have sparked overwhelming criticism from those on the microblogging site Weibo.

“It’s a joke that we have to discuss such a question,” said one commenter under a post from a local news site that quoted a lawyer who said citizens are “constitutionally” free to leave for safety. The post had received more than 3.7 million views by Tuesday.

“I guess it’s okay if I die inside the building, at least I didn’t get infected,” said another comment.

The Chengdu Health Commission later posted on its official WeChat account that “priority must be given to safeguarding public life in the event of earthquakes, fires, floods and other disasters.”

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, has been hit by a heat wave and drought this summer and was last week plunged into lockdown after a surge in Covid cases.

China’s Covid policies require cities to go into strict lockdowns – even if few cases have been reported.

But Beijing’s drive to ensure “zero Covid” has been blamed for stifling economic growth and has sparked rare public dissent from citizens.

China is the last major economy in the world to try to fully contain outbreaks of Covid, arguing that this is necessary to prevent wider surges of the virus that could overwhelm hospitals.

The country has officially recorded fewer than 15,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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