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China’s fatal quarantine bus crash sparks online outcry over Covid-19 controls

Three officials from Yunyan district, where the bus victims were from, have been suspended from their jobs pending an investigation, the Guizhou provincial government said Monday.

The officials are District Communist Party Secretary Zhu Gang; Song Chengqiang, who was in charge of transferring residents; and Xiao Lingyun, deputy police party secretary in Yunyan.

An unidentified official said the province and city are investigating the crash and those responsible will be punished.

But the apologies and suspensions did little to limit the backlash, with more than 69,000 comments on social media in the 24 hours following the accident, and related topics on the Weibo microblogging site viewed more than 400 million times.

The level of social media engagement on a single issue matched the February 2020 response to the death of Li Wen Liangthe Wuhan doctor widely regarded as one of the earliest whistleblowers of the pandemic.

Many commentators expressed sympathy for the victims of the accident, all residents of the same area of ​​Yunyan district where cases of Covid-19 were recorded.

Some family members of the crash victims shared their grief and frustration on Weibo. “[My mother] has been living at home for half a month and has only been out for Covid-19 tests,” one woman wrote.

“She had a green health code and a negative test result. Then she was dragged into quarantine and died on the way. I cannot accept such an end.

There was further backlash when Hu Xijin, the former editor of the public tabloid Global Times, said the crash should be seen as a safety issue, instead of linking it to Covid-prevention policies. 19.

Many netizens pointed to the clear breach of national transport rules – which ban long-distance buses on motorways from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. to avoid fatigue.

But others criticized what they called the frequent but unnecessary practice of moving people to isolation centers outside their towns. Some called on the authorities to pay for the loss of life due to their negligence.

Wilfred Wang, professor of media and communications studies, from the University of Melbourne, noted that many online commenters, particularly on Douyin – the Chinese version of TikTok – linked their frustration with the strict lockdown rules from Covid-19 to their anger and grief over the accident.

“It seems many are fed up with China’s strict Covid controls, but such feelings are either contained by censorship or self-censorship,” Wang said.

Lillian Song, a Beijing resident, said she felt angry and concerned about the accident as “everyone can end up on a bus like this” due to strict Covid-19 measures.

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Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the reaction from netizens showed concern that local policies were taking precedence over national laws and regulations.

“But offline protests and other collective actions are unlikely to happen, as we have seen with the Shanghai lockdown, the death of Li Wenliang, etc. There is an apparent lack of effectiveness among the audience,” Fang said.

American biomedical researcher Yebin Zhou, who writes about science on Chinese social media, said there was no scientific evidence that centralized facilities prevailed over home quarantine.

“The transport process would actually increase the risk of getting infected,” he wrote.

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The practice of moving residents of entire buildings – or even entire residential areas – to other cities has been used in Shanghai, Xian and Beijing due to a lack of isolation facilities.

Authorities say the practice makes isolation deeper and helps cut the chain of transmission. It also achieves “social clearance”, so that any new infections end up among people who are already isolated.

A leaked, unverified document appears to show authorities in Guizhou had set a goal of achieving “social authorisation” by September 19 – less than a month before the Communist Party’s national congress.

The Guiyang municipal government said Monday afternoon that no infections were found in three rounds of citywide testing from Thursday to Saturday, and the risk of community transmission had been “effectively contained. “.

Nie Riming, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, wrote on social media that authorities in Guiyang were more concerned about the spread of Covid-19 than the safety risks of transporting people overnight. over long distances.

“In Guiyang, pandemic prevention clearly trumps all other safety management policies, this is the cause of the accident,” he wrote.

Nie said Guiyang was not alone, with an abundance of violations of pandemic prevention policies in other cities – which fenced off areas or locked people in their homes.

On Monday, a day after the crash, social media users posted photos of rows of buses and said the transport of people to facilities hundreds of miles from their homes was continuing.