China Maintains “zero-COVID” Policy in Chengdu Despite Fatal 6.8 Magnitude Earthquake 
China’s Chengdu enforces strict lockdown despite earthquake

Authorities in China’s southwestern city of Chengdu are sticking to the nation’s “zero-COVID” policy demanding a lockdown on the city’s 21 million inhabitants even in the face of a major earthquake that has killed at least 66 people in the region.

Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, has been beset by a heatwave and drought this summer and last week was plunged into a lockdown after an increase in COVID cases.

Some in Chengdu say they were ordered to stay inside while the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck a mountainous area in Luding County, about 200 km (125 miles) from Chengdu, while those that ran outside say their movements were severely restricted due to the pandemic.

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

In one, a man swears at a security guard, rattling what appears to be his apartment gates and trying to open it, then shouts: “Hurry up, open the door, it’s an earthquake!” In response, the guards say: “It’s over, the earthquake’s already over.”

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

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake on Monday was the strongest Sichuan has seen since 2017. Provincial authorities said at least 66 people were dead, 253 people were injured and 15 others were missing as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Chengdu lockdown most severe since Shanghai 

Citizens in Chengdu, China, rush to gather necessities before city-wide lockdown.

Chengdu’s lockdown is the most severe since China’s largest city of Shanghai was placed in isolation over the spring and summer.

Starting last week, 1 September, residents were no longer allowed to leave their homes without special permission. Authorities also began citywide testing. 

Nationwide, China reported 1,499 new cases of local infection, most of them asymptomatic, on Tuesday. Sichuan province accounted for 138 of those cases.

In all, 65 million people across China in 33 cities are grappling with partial or full lockdowns, according to Chinese media, from Chengdu to the southern economic powerhouse of Shenzhen to the oil-producing city of Daqing, near Russia.  

Chengdu, which reported 121 cases, is showing signs of tightening restrictions. At least one district in Chengdu has banned even the ordering of takeout meals and coffee, according to a notice posted on the internet.

Business owners are preparing for the worst.  

Eli Sweet, an American who runs a chain of dance studios in Chengdu, told Bloomberg his business was already hit by power cuts across Sichuan province in recent weeks before the COVID lockdown. “We’re definitely teetering on the brink of dying,” he said of his chain of dance studios, “which is pretty sad considering we built this business from scratch to a pretty significant scale.”

The atmosphere in Chengdu, he added, has become one of “fatigue, annoyance and general compliance.”

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s “zero-COVID” strategy tested before October re-election  

China’s Xi Jinping in 18 May address before the World Health Assembly

China has stuck to its “zero-COVID” policy of compulsory testing, lockdowns, quarantines and masking despite moves from the rest of the world to open up again since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019. 

World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called this strategy unsustainable in the face of the more infectious but less lethal Omicron variant that emerged in May

For China’s President Xi Jinping, his nation’s strategy may seem like evidence that the Communist Party’s system of governance has distinct advantages over Western democracy. But for George Magnus, a research associate at Oxford University, the situation may be masking a hard truth: China still isn’t in a position to handle a COVID-19 outbreak. 

“Its hospital system is not up to it, mRNA vaccines are not yet widely available, and the elderly vaccination rate is still low,” Magnus told Bloomberg

“This is a problem for the 2020s and for Xi, whose opponents in the party, sensing all this, and also Xi’s risky foreign policies, may not be as docile in the future as now,” he said.

With the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade leadership summit coming up in October, in which Jinping is expected to be re-elected as China’s top leader for another five years, the evolving situation in Chengdu, alongside the outbreaks in other cities, may in fact undermine Jinping’s proclamation that the “zero-COVID” strategy is a winning one.

“The more cities get locked down, the more Chinese will turn against COVID-zero,” said Frank Tsai, founder of consulting firm China Crossroads. 

“The party knows that there is a tipping point,” he said, “and it would be smart to get ahead of this tipping point and declare victory before it comes.”

Image Credits: Global News/Twitter , Manya Koetse/Twitter.

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