HONG KONG — At least 27 people were killed when a bus in southwest China crashed as it was taking them to a Covid-19 quarantine facility, local authorities said, drawing outrage from a public growing weary with the country’s strict “zero-Covid” policies.
The bus overturned on an expressway around 2:40 a.m. Sunday, 2½ hours after it left Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, for a quarantine hotel in a different part of the province, the state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a news conference by Lin Gang, Guiyang’s deputy mayor.
Those on board were a driver, a staff member and 45 residents of Guiyang’s Yunyan District, he said. In addition to the 27 people who were killed, 20 others were treated for injuries at a nearby hospital.
Lin said officials were “extremely remorseful” and that the cause was under investigation. He also said the procedures for Covid-related transportation and isolation would be examined.
Three officials in Yunyan District, where the bus originated, have been suspended pending an investigation.
News of the accident drew a torrent of anger online, with some commenters questioning why the passengers were being transported in the middle of the night. A hashtag about the accident got hundreds of millions of views on Chinese social media and was the top trending topic.
“Actually, 1.4 billion people are all on this same bus, the bus of Covid prevention and control,” one comment read, referring to China’s total population.
China continues to enforce take some of the strictest Covid-19 measures in the world, trying to cut off chains of transmission by isolating people with confirmed infections and quarantining anyone around them who may have been exposed. Local officials, who are under enormous pressure to prevent outbreaks from spiraling out of control, sometimes bus whole communities to other cities or even provinces if there is not enough quarantine capacity nearby.
The restrictions are weighing heavily on the country and its economy as outbreaks have left tens of millions of people in some form of lockdown, weeks before President Xi Jinping is widely expected to secure an unprecedented third term in office at a meeting of the ruling Communist Party. China says that the restrictions are necessary to keep its health care system from being overwhelmed and that its policies have saved lives, pointing to the high Covid death tolls in the U.S. and other countries.
Case numbers have risen in recent days in Guizhou province, which recorded 364 on Sunday out of 807 nationwide, according to the National Health Commission. It was unclear whether those on the bus had Covid-19 or were on it because cases had been detected among their close contacts or neighbors.
Officials in Guiyang, where almost all 6 million residents were tested for the virus three times in three days over the weekend, drew more criticism Monday when they reported that no cases outside quarantine were found during that time, with online commenters accusing them of insensitivity.
“Great job, Guiyang!” one comment read. “Zero Covid at the cost of 27 lives.”
Rhoda Kwan and Dawn Liu contributed.