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Lockdown Hindering Rescue Efforts in China After Earthquake

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Rescue workers carry an injured person following an earthquake in Sichuan province on Sept. 6. | Image by CNS/AFP/Getty Images

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After Monday’s 6.8-magnitude earthquake in southwest China killed 74, with 26 more still missing, many of the 21 million residents grew increasingly frustrated with the strict COVID-19 lockdown measures that prevented them from leaving their buildings.

COVID-19 cases have been reported in 103 cities, the highest since the early days of the pandemic in early 2020, ABC News reported.

In all, 65 million Chinese residents in 33 cities, including seven provincial capitals, are currently under varying levels of COVID-19 lockdown. The government also discouraged domestic travel during the Mid-Autumn Festival on Saturday and the weeklong National Holiday starting in October.

Earthquake survivors must undergo daily COVID-19 testing, show their travel history, and register visits to indoor or crowded places using a phone application, reported The Print. Local residents returning to the quake zone must obtain additional approval from local community authorities.

The powerful earthquake struck the Sichuan Province at a depth of 6.2 miles, nearly 30 miles southeast of Kangding city, around noon on September 5, India.com reported.

China’s deadliest earthquake in recent years was a 7.9 magnitude quake in Sichuan in 2008, which killed nearly 90,000 people. The earthquake destroyed towns, schools, and rural communities outside Chengdu, necessitating a multi-year effort to rebuild with more durable materials.

The quake’s epicenter on Monday was in a mountainous area of Luding County, about 125 miles from Chengdu. The region is located on the Tibetan Plateau’s edge, where tectonic plates grind as they collide against each other.

A video posted on social media by the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a news agency based in the Sichuan Province, shows kindergarten teachers in Luding hurriedly evacuating children to an open area as the ground shook.

Following the earthquake, police and health workers refused to let anxious residents of apartment buildings out, fueling outrage over the government’s strict “zero-COVID policy,” which mandated lockdowns, quarantines, and other restrictions even as the rest of the world reopened, according to ABC News.

Roads damaged by the tremblor hindered rescuers trying to reach affected locations. Liu Hong, head of the Garze Bureau of Culture, Radio, Television, and Tourism, said the road into and out of Hailuogou collapsed during the earthquake. Storm damage had also disrupted communication.

The disaster has prompted the authorities to place Luding County and the nearby tourist hotspot of Hailuogou under temporary COVID-19 restrictions, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday, according to India.com.

No unauthorized people or vehicles are allowed entry, including members of the public volunteering for rescue efforts, The Print reported.

Entry permits issued to rescue personnel must be accompanied by a negative PCR test result within 24 hours, a green health code, and no travel history in cities with COVID-19 cases. Rescuers must be tested for COVID-19 every 24 hours.    

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