27 people died after a bus transporting close contacts of coronavirus patients crashed outside of Guiyang at 2:40 a.m. on Sunday. The close contacts were being shipped to a remote county 155 miles outside of Guizhou’s provincial capital, which is experiencing its largest ever reported outbreak. The deadly accident triggered a nationwide outpouring of criticism about unsafe practices used to enforce China’s zero-COVID policy, other recent examples of which include pandemic workers preventing Chengdu residents from fleeing their buildings during an earthquake. At The New York Times, Vivian Wang and Joy Dong reported on public outrage and Guiyang officials’ decision to speed up the pace of busing:
As news of the crash emerged, Chinese social media erupted with fierce debate about whether the country’s Covid policies were to blame. Users asked whether the passengers had needed to be transferred at all and why the bus had been on the road so late at night, when Chinese traffic laws prohibit most long-distance passenger vehicles from driving between 2 and 5 a.m. Some said that such a tragedy could have happened to anyone, given the government’s fixation on eliminating cases and ordinary people’s powerlessness to resist it.
[…] Censors removed many angry comments about the crash, as well as the entire accounts of some users who had shared their outrage or grief. In a reflection of how polarizing and politicized the Covid debate in China has become, some social media users struck back at the critics, saying that people who would turn a traffic accident into a political debate must be servants of Western forces.
[…] Late last week, the city’s Communist Party secretary, Hu Zhongxiong, called for residents to be sent to quarantine more quickly, urging same-day transfers. By Saturday afternoon, more than 7,000 people had been sent out of Guiyang, with nearly 3,000 more in the process of being transferred, officials said.
Hours later, at 10 minutes after midnight, the bus departed from Guiyang. [Source]
Singapore-based outlet Initium reported that the rush to deport close contacts was a product of a municipal order to achieve “societal clearance” by September 19. A Guiyang resident told Initium that to achieve societal clearance authorities had begun deporting entire neighborhoods to quarantine centers, individuals’ negative test results and lack of close contacts notwithstanding. Conditions on quarantine transport buses can be grim. One viral video showed hazmat-suited passengers, including young children, banging on the windows of a bus and begging to be let out to use the bathroom. At CNN, Yong Xiong, Nectar Gan, and Phillip Wang reported on the government’s censorship of outrage about the practice of late-night busing and indiscriminate quarantine:
A photo widely circulated on social media shows the bus driving at night, with the driver wearing a full hazmat suit that left only his eyes uncovered. Other photos and videos show the bus being towed by a truck, its top crushed, and a hazmat suited worker spraying disinfectant on it. While CNN cannot independently verify the photos and videos, the bus license plate in the images matches the plate number reported by authorities.
[…] Chinese censors rushed to cover the outrage. Many state media postings about the accident have closed the comment section, and search results appeared to be filtered. A related hashtag attracted more than 450 million views as of Sunday evening, but only posts from official government and media accounts were shown.
[…] “What makes you think that you won’t be on that late-night bus one day?” read a viral comment, which garnered more than 250,000 likes before it was censored.[Source]
Sep 18 also happens to be China's National Humiliation Day, marking the start of Japanese invasion in 1931. Weibo users are now saying the National Humiliation Day has taken on a new meaning. pic.twitter.com/HSoYNwxMcc
— Linda Lew 刘凌达 (@Lindadalew) September 18, 2022
“Who [among us] is not on that bus?
—Lu San of Da’an, 16 Sept 2022.”
Tragic accident involving a bus ferrying people out of Guiyang to a quarantine facility has killed 27 & injured 20. https://t.co/LDW7QAICRg
— Jonathan (@Henshaw_PhD) September 19, 2022
Making the rounds on wechat today. Never underestimate the powerful creativity that can flow out of the need to skirt censorship. pic.twitter.com/HKGtethanB
— Even (@Even_Pay) September 19, 2022
A Guiyang deputy mayor apologized for the incident and vowed an investigation, but Bloomberg News reports that the bus accident is unlikely to spur change to the national zero-COVID policy:
A local official apologized for the deaths of 27 people, and injuries to 20 others, when a bus being used to ferry them to Covid isolation facilities overturned early Sunday morning in Guizhou province. While the deputy mayor of the capital, Guiyang, vowed to investigate the incident and hold those responsible accountable, public anger is mounting, with the incident swiftly becoming a lightning rod for frustrations at the government’s zero-tolerance virus approach.
[…] “I see a lot of sadness at this tragic incident but also widespread resignation that, in spite of the lives lost, not much would change in the short term as local authorities are hard-wired to control the local outbreaks ahead of the 20th Party Congress,” said Dali Yang, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, who focuses on China.
[…] Top provincial officials have arrived to command the investigation, according to the government-affiliated Guizhou Daily. The publication ran two pieces on the significance of continuing to strengthen Covid prevention and control efforts on the front page of the Monday paper. [Source]
Guiyang’s lockdown has been beset with issues since its beginning. In early September, some city residents complained of hunger and alleged that aid was contingent on one’s politics, with groceries only given to the “compliant.”