Dozens dead after quarantine bus crashes in China's Guizhou province

Government censors remove news about the crash from top searches, as people question zero-COVID measures.
By Gu Ting for RFA Mandarin, and by Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for RFA Cantonese.
2022.09.19
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Dozens dead after quarantine bus crashes in China's Guizhou province A bus transporting residents to a quarantine camp overturned and fell into a deep ditch beside the road in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou, September 18, 2022.
Weibo

At least 27 people died and 20 were left with injuries after a bus taking 47 people to a COVID-19 quarantine camp crashed in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou, local authorities said.

Police in Guizhou's Sandu country said only that a vehicle had overturned on an expressway in the county, and the injured were being treated in hospital.

But the Guiyang municipal government told a news conference on Sunday that those on board were being taken from the provincial capital Guiyang to Libo county, some 200 kilometers to the southeast.

The bus, which was taking people to a quarantine hotel in Qiannan prefecture for medical observation and isolation, overturned at around 2.40 a.m. local time on Sunday, falling into a deep ditch by the side of the road.

The authorities confirmed that 27 people had died, with 20 people receiving hospital treatment for injuries suffered in the crash.

The crash came as authorities around the country scramble to implement ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping's zero-COVID policy, leading to strict curbs on "non-essential" travel overseas, grueling and repetitive mass compulsory testing programs, lockdowns and forcible mass transportation to quarantine camps.

Feng Wenhua, a resident of the Guiyang's Yunyan district, said one of the victims lived in the same residential compound as him.

"This happened [to someone] in our community, which is on a street next to the Yunyan district government building, called Chemical Road," Feng told RFA.

There were signs that the news of the crash, which initially garnered around 100 million views, was being suppressed on social media, as the story later disappeared from lists of trending search terms.

Strong-arm enforcement of zero-COVID

By Monday morning, it had been replaced at the top of Weibo's "hot searches" list by an official apology from the Guiyang municipal government.

"An apology won't bring back the dead, and this betrayal of trust is chilling," @Nobi_Big_Bear wrote on Weibo.

Others hit out at over-zealous officials using strong-arm tactics to implement zero-COVID measures for fear of spoiling their official appraisal records.

A Guiyang resident who gave only the surname Sun said the zero-COVID policy has caused countless human tragedies.

"These kinds of things are all caused by human actions," Sun said. "These things would never happen if there had been no lockdown."

"There's little that ordinary people can do about it."

Feng said zero-COVID means that anyone deemed a "close contact" of a COVID-19 case is forced to go to a quarantine camp, often in the dead of night or early morning.

"A large number of people have been taken away to quarantine at night," Feng said. "They take all of the close contacts of a case, once it is found."

A social media user who gave only the surname Zhao said officials are to blame for forcing people to comply with the measures.

"They sent people to their deaths, and all for their own power and political record," Zhao said. "The outbreak isn't that serious, yet they drag all of these people into isolation. Are they really doing it for disease prevention or for profit?"

"Why don't they let people self-isolate at home?"

Dragging people away

An employee who answered the phone at the Guizhou Provincial Epidemic Prevention Headquarters said the aftermath of the crash was being handled by the traffic and civil affairs departments.

"This policy is not formulated by us here, nor by our center. It may be formulated by a higher-level department," the employee said.

"If you have any opinions, you can directly report them to your superiors. If you have any doubts, you can appeal to the provincial government," they said.

Calls to the Guizhou municipal government had met with no response to RFA's request for comment by the time of writing.

A Guiyang resident who requested anonymity said quarantine and isolation operations were still in full swing in the city.

"There are still hundreds of our neighbors who have been taken off to some place in Zunyi," the resident said. "I saw a video clip they posted: they were in a school dormitory."

"These things are bound to happen if you drag people off like this in the middle of the night; it's a waste of life, and a waste of money," he said, adding that he had been warned by the authorities not to speak out about the incident.

"The Guiyang authorities are now telling to keep our mouths shut," he said. "CNN wanted to interview a friend of one of the people who died, but was told not to allow imperialist forces to smear China. The police also contacted me and told me not to talk so much about it."

"The hot search listings have been removed from social media platforms in China, like Weibo and Xiaohongshu," he said. "They have hidden the forwarding and commenting functions."

Political campaign

Senior journalist Zhang Feng said the drivers of quarantine buses have to wear heavy protective clothing on long distance drives at night, affecting the safety of the bus journeys.

"They are transferring confirmed positives out of Guiyang, known as social clearing," Zhang told RFA. "The destination ... was 300 kilometers away."

"I don't know why they like doing these transfers overnight, which is a violation of traffic laws, which bans all passenger buses from driving along highways between 2.00 a.m. and 5.00 a.m."

"There are lots of stretches of highway in Guiyang that are pretty tough to drive," Zhang said. "I don't know if it was due to driver fatigue, but wearing that [protective] clothing has got to have had some impact."

Zhang said officials are keen to deliver on the zero-COVID policy, in order to demonstrate political loyalty to Xi Jinping and the CCP.

"It's a [political] campaign, with a top-down loyalty system, under which everyone wants to perform well," he said. "All the local governments are performing their political allegiance to the central government."

"Under such a system, there's no way to pull back from [implementing the measures]."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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