China earthquake deaths rise to 74 as anger over COVID lockdown grows

Soldiers clearing debris in search for earthquake survivors
Soldiers clear debris to search for earthquake survivors in the town of Moxi in southwest China.
(Ran Peizong / Xinhua News Agency)

The death toll in this week’s earthquake in southwestern China has jumped to 74, with an additional 26 people still missing, the government reported Wednesday, as frustration rose with uncompromising COVID lockdown measures that prevented residents from leaving their buildings after the shaking.

The magnitude 6.8 quake that struck just after noon Monday in Sichuan province caused extensive damage to homes in Ganzi prefecture and shook buildings in the provincial capital, Chengdu, whose 21 million residents are under a strict COVID-19 lockdown.

After the quake, police and health workers refused to allow anxious residents out of their apartment buildings, adding to anger over the government’s strict “zero-COVID policy” mandating lockdowns, quarantines and other restrictions when infections are detected, even while the rest of the world has largely reopened.


Video circulating online showed residents of the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic is believed to have originated in late 2019, chanting at police, “Lift the lockdown, refuse to be tested.”

It’s unclear how long China’s leaders can maintain their zero-COVID strategy without sacrificing the economic growth that is a bedrock of their rule.

May 6, 2022

The restrictions have prompted protests online and in person, rare in China’s tightly controlled society, where the all-powerful Communist Party can easily sentence people to months or years in prison on loosely defined charges such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

In all, 65 million Chinese in 33 cities, including seven provincial capitals, are under varying levels of lockdown. The government is also discouraging domestic travel during the Mid-Autumn Festival on Saturday and the weeklong National Day holiday at the start of October.

Coronavirus outbreaks have been reported in 103 cities, the highest since the early days of the pandemic in early 2020.

Monday’s quake was centered in a mountainous area of Luding county, which is about 125 miles from Chengdu and sits on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, where tectonic plates grind 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 temblor devastated towns, schools and rural communities outside Chengdu, leading to a years-long effort to rebuild with more resistant materials.