According to authorities, the bus was transporting 47 people from Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, to a remote county 249 kilometers away when it overturned on a mountainous stretch of highway around 2:40 am and rolled into a ditch
It’s unclear why a quarantine bus would take people on winding mountain roads after midnight. China’s transportation regulations prohibit long-distance buses from operating between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m
A photo widely circulated on social media shows the bus driving at night, with the driver wearing a full hazmat suit leaving only his eyes uncovered. Other photos and videos show the bus being towed by a truck, its roof crushed and a worker in hazmat suits spraying disinfectant on it. While CNN cannot independently verify the photos and videos, the bus license plate number in the images matches the plate number reported by authorities.
The survivors of the crash are currently being treated in hospitals, according to the authorities.
News of the deaths sparked a major outcry on Chinese social media, with many questioning the increasingly over-the-top implementation of China’s zero-Covid policy, which relies on quick lockdowns, mass testing and sweeping quarantine measures to contain outbreaks.
Strict and prolonged lockdowns have recently sparked outcry in cities from Guiyang, Chengdu to Jinan, as well as in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions.
“What makes you think that one day you won’t be on that night bus?” Read a viral comment that received more than 250,000 likes before it was censored.
“We’re all on the bus. We just haven’t crashed yet,” said another commenter.
Chinese censors rushed to cover the outrage. Many state media posts about the accident closed the comments section and the search results appeared to be filtered. A related hashtag was viewed more than 450 million times as of Sunday night, but only posts from official government and media accounts were shown.
A Guizhou resident who said her friend was killed on the bus took to Weibo to demand that the Guiyang government be held accountable. Her posts were widely shared, sparking anger and compassion. The user declined interview requests from CNN and later hid her posts.
Guizhou officials are under intense pressure to contain even small Covid outbreaks ahead of the 20th National Congress where Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to secure a norm-breaking third term in power.
On Saturday, Guiyang officials vowed to “fight a decisive fight” to stop community transmission. In zero-Covid China, a solution often used by local authorities is to drive entire buildings or communities out of town to quarantine elsewhere.
In Guiyang, which went into lockdown earlier this month, authorities prepared 20 buses and 40 drivers to transport close contacts of Covid cases to other cities, the state-run Guiyang Evening Paper reported. As of Saturday, more than 7,000 people had been transferred and almost 3,000 were waiting to be taken away by bus.