BEIJING (AFP) – Authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu have maintained strict measures to lock down the city of 21 million despite a massive earthquake that killed at least 65 people in remote areas.
Footage circulating online on Tuesday showed workers in protective gear preventing residents of apartment buildings from going out through closed lobby doors after Monday’s 6.8-magnitude earthquake centered in the surrounding Sichuan province.
The earthquake shook buildings in Chengdu and other parts of western China. No damage was reported in the city. The quake hit a mountainous area in Luoding county on the edge of the Tibetan plateau 200 km (125 miles) from Chengdu, where tectonic plates collide with each other.
Although only a handful of cases have been recorded, Chengdu’s lockdown is the most severe since China’s largest city, Shanghai, was quarantined over the summer, leading to rare protests in person and online.
In all, 65 million Chinese in 33 cities including seven regional capitals are currently under varying levels of lockdown while the government bans domestic travel during upcoming national holidays.
Outbreaks have been reported in 103 cities, the highest number since the early days of the epidemic in early 2020.
Most Chengdu residents are confined to their apartments or apartment complexes. In the eastern port city of Tianjin, classes were moved online after a few new cases were reported.
China’s authoritarian communist political system demands strict adherence to procedures dictated by the central leadership overwhelmingly dominated by party leader Xi Jinping.
Local leaders, including the recently appointed provincial party secretary in Sichuan, often parachuted from Beijing with little knowledge of local conditions and a strong mandate to carry out Xi’s dictates.
The often harsh and chaotic application of the Shanghai lockdown has led to widespread complaints about shortages of food, medicine and access to health care. In a sign of how little the change has been, at least one district in Chengdu has even banned the ordering of fast food and coffee, according to a notice posted online.
China has adhered to its tough “zero COVID” policy of mandatory testing, lockdown, quarantine and concealment despite advice from the World Health Organization and moves by most other countries to open up again since the virus was first detected in central China. Wuhan city in late 2019.
On Tuesday, China reported 1,499 new cases of local infection, most of them asymptomatic. Sichuan accounted for 138 of this total figure.
The earthquake caused power outages and damaged buildings in the historic mountain town of Moxi in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gars, killing 37 people. And the new China News Agency (Xinhua) reported that tents were set up for more than 50,000 people who were moved from homes that became unsafe due to the earthquake.
State broadcaster CCTV showed rescue crews pulling an apparently uninjured woman from a collapsed house in Moxi, where many of the wood-and-brick buildings were built. About 150 people with varying degrees of injuries have been reported.
Twenty-eight people were killed in neighboring Ximian County, on the outskirts of Yan City. State media reported that 248 people were injured, most of them in Moxie, and 16 others were missing.
Three of the dead were workers in the Heilogu Scenic Area, a forest and glacier nature reserve.
Besides the deaths, authorities have reported landslides that destroyed homes, caused power outages and stranded people behind a newly created lake. The landslide blocked a rural highway, leaving it littered with boulders.
The earthquake and shutdown were followed by a heat wave and drought that led to water shortages and power outages due to Sichuan’s dependence on hydropower.
The deadliest earthquake in China in recent years was the 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 2008 that killed nearly 90,000 people in Sichuan. The earthquake destroyed towns, schools, and rural communities outside Chengdu, leading to years of efforts to rebuild with more resistant materials.
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