BEIJING — The death toll in this week’s earthquake in western China has risen to 74 and another 26 people are still missing, the government reported on Wednesday, as frustration grew over uncompromising lockdown measures of COVID-19 that prevented residents from leaving their buildings after the tremor.
The 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Monday afternoon in Sichuan Province caused extensive damage to homes in the Ganze Tibetan Autonomous Region and shook buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu, including 21 million citizens are subject to strict confinement linked to COVID-19.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, police and health workers refused to let anxious residents out of apartment buildings, adding to anger at the government’s strict ‘zero-COVID policy’ imposing lockdowns, quarantines and other restrictions, even as the rest of the world has largely reopened.
Footage circulating online showed residents of the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic is believed to have originated in late 2019, chanting “lift the lockdown, refuse to be tested” at police.
The restrictions have sparked protests online and in person, which is rare in China’s tightly controlled society where the all-powerful Communist Party can easily sentence people to months or years in prison on vaguely defined charges such as ” quarrel and cause trouble”.
A total of 65 million Chinese in 33 cities, including seven provincial capitals, are currently under varying levels of lockdown. The government also discourages domestic travel during the Mid-Autumn Festival on Saturday and the week-long National Day in early October.
Outbreaks have been reported in 103 cities, the highest since the early days of the pandemic in early 2020.
Monday’s earthquake was centered in a mountainous area in Luding County, which sits on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Chengdu, where tectonic plates rub against each other.
China’s deadliest earthquake in recent years was a magnitude 7.9 quake in 2008 that killed nearly 90,000 people in Sichuan. The quake devastated towns, schools and rural communities outside Chengdu, prompting a years-long effort to rebuild with stronger materials.