Xi’s ‘Zero Covid’ policy under fire for endangering lives in Chengdu earthquake

When the powerful earthquake hit the Chinese city of Chengdu on September 5, residents were not allowed by the authorities to step outside their homes. The reason was the strict lockdown imposed by the Xi Jinping government. The weird and inhuman conditions of the lockdown, which almost put the lives of thousands at risk, made people in China angry, who then took to social media to vent their emotions against Xi’s Zero Covid policy. The 6.6 magnitude earthquake left at least 74 dead. Chinese-born human rights activist and author Jennifer Zeng said the people were locked inside their buildings, preventing them from seeking safety in open space. Zeng also said the communist party officials did not provide Chengdu residents with any relief but rather forced them to line up for covid testing amid earthquake-destructed areas. [2] Viral videos on social media showed how people panicked, clashed with security personnel and tried to break iron grills to escape after the earthquake struck, causing structures to fall off.

Different Chinese cities are witnessing fast-spreading Covid infection, thus raising questions about the earlier claims made by the Beijing government of having weeded out corona virus from the country completely. Now, at least 33 cities including seven provincial capitals are under lockdown even as active covid cases are currently present in 103 cities. Chengdu is the capital of the Chinese province of Sichuan. Despite the earthquake, authorities have not relaxed lockdown conditions. Rather they have been made stricter, causing residents distress as they tend to lose their employment and livelihoods. Residents’ like Ma Guoming and Zhang Yan said they felt helpless since they did not know when lockdown would be relaxed.

When residents demanded they be allowed to leave their buildings, Chinese authorities refused and ridiculed them by asking “has the building collapsed yet?” A Weibo user said “At that moment, I do not know whether to blame them (security personnel) or feel sorry for them, [as it is] out of their own hands, but I cannot praise such ‘pandemic policy’,” a resident said on social media platform Weibo. A coffee shop owner George Li is scared in case a more powerful earthquake occurs in near future. “Imagine it was a bigger earthquake, like the Wenchuan [in 2008] and everyone needs to stay at home. No one knows what’s going to happen,” he said. People are questioning the Xi government why they were forcefully locked down when they could have died in the earthquake. “Which one is more important? The lockdown or the earthquake?” said  Lu Siwei, Chengdu-based lawyer. Another disgruntled resident wrote on Weibo “I guess it’s fine if I die inside the building, at least I didn’t get infected.”

Xi Jinping has been receiving flak for his ‘Zero Covid’ policy as it has put free public movement to an end, and led to job loss and economic slowdown. The lockdown in Shanghai under this policy had seen huge protests from people as it led to food and medicine shortages, separation of small kids from their parents, and a rise in mental distress. Now the forced lockdown in Chengdu despite the earthquake has brought the ‘Zero Covid’ policy into the limelight. Zhou Weifa, a lawyer from Chengdu, remarked people’s lives must get priority over any rule or policy. “From the legal point of view, the right to life of a person is greater than any other rights and interests of any nature,” Zhou said.

A popular Chinese science writer Fang Zhouzi has expressed concerns over deaths that may have occurred in the earthquake as people were not allowed to leave their homes. “Earthquakes are minor, epidemic prevention is a major concern, and death from an earthquake is not considered death,” he mocked the Zero Covid policy. “How many casualties were caused by being surrounded and unable to escape?” Human rights activist and former executive director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth expressed concerns over the plight of Chengdu residents and slammed Xi for his ‘Zero Covid’ policy. “How to guarantee bad policy: Xi Jinping “has given his personal imprimatur to ‘zero Covid,’ casting it as proof of the party’s strength—and by extension, his own leadership. Any local official seen as weakening that claim could face serious consequences,” he said.

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