China: Bus Carrying Prisoners to Coronavirus Camp Crashes, Killing 27

Commuters wearing face masks ride on a crowded bus traveling from the outskirts of the cap
AP Photo/Andy Wong

Chinese state media on Sunday reported 27 people were killed in an early-morning bus crash on an expressway in Guizhou province. Outrage spread across China when officials confirmed the bus was hauling captive “epidemic-related people” to a quarantine camp over 125 miles from their homes.

China’s state-run Global Times blandly quoted the “authorities” urging a “review of the transfer of all personnel related to quarantine and the hidden dangers of traffic safety” to “prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.”

The crash was reported to “relevant departments” at 2:40 a.m. on Sunday morning. The bus departed at 12:10 a.m. with 45 “epidemic-related personnel,” to use China’s preferred euphemism for its coronavirus prisoners, plus a driver and a “staff member.”

Few details were released about the accident, which killed 20 people on the bus and injured all of the remaining 27. 

Local Chinese Communist Party chiefs performed solemn bows of contrition and promised to thoroughly investigate the incident, but insisted “quarantine transfer” remains an important element of “zero-Covid” policy, because “centralized quarantine is particularly crucial in cutting off transmission chains.”

According to the Associated Press, the provincial capital of Guiyang, where the deadly bus trip originated, reported just 180 new coronavirus cases on Friday. Only two people have died from Chinese coronavirus in Guiyang during the entire pandemic. No one from the swarm of Chinese officials buzzing around the crash has explained why a quarantine bus would be dispatched for such a long journey after midnight, in defiance of China’s passenger bus regulations.

The people on the bus might not even have been infected — various reports describe them as “linked to the epidemic” or “close contacts of coronavirus patients.”

Anger erupted on Chinese social media as news of the bus crash spread, especially since millions are still under brutal lockdowns across the country.

The UK Guardian quoted comments such as, “What proof do you have that you won’t be on that bus at night someday?” and “Who said we’re not on that bus late at night, we’re clearly all there. We’re all on this terrifying, dark bus.”

“Actually, 1.4 billion people are all on this same bus, the bus of Covid prevention and control,” another commentator observed.

“She hadn’t gone out of the house except to take covid tests for half a month. It is inexplicable that she was killed while being bused to quarantine. I can’t accept such an ending,” said a woman whose mother died on the bus.

According to the Guardian, the bus crash became Sunday’s top trending topic on Weibo, the heavily-controlled Chinese version of Twitter. Naturally, Communist censors immediately swung into action and began deleting angry posts from Weibo and other social media platforms.

By Monday morning, Weibo posts on the bush crash had accumulated over 1 billion views, despite the frantic censorship efforts, the Washington Post reported.

The Post speculated the backlash, which includes a great deal of pent-up anxiety about China’s seemingly endless “zero-Covid” quarantines, could be severe enough to trouble dictator Xi Jinping as he seeks to secure an unprecedented third term in office at next month’s Communist Party Congress.

A possible sign of turbulence for Xi was that one of the critical posts on Weibo came from Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the Global Times and one of Xi’s most reliable propagandists.

“Why did Guiyang city have to transport quarantine subjects in a manner that is suspected of serious violations? For such a large-scale, long-distance transport, did it really have to be done so late at night, and was there really no alternative?” Hu asked, referring to reports of unsanitary conditions on the quarantine buses, including video of panicked passengers banging on windows and pleading for access to a restroom.


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