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China’s Sichuan province was dealing with a record heat wave and a COVID lockdown. Then came a deadly earthquake

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An earthquake, measuring 6.8 in magnitude, struck China’s Sichuan province on Monday, testing a part of China already beset by a heat wave, drought, forest fires and a COVID outbreak.

The death toll from the earthquake, which struck an area of southwestern Sichuan 160 miles from provincial capital Chengdu, stood at 65 as of Tuesday afternoon Hong Kong time. State media reports an additional 248 injuries and 12 missing.

Residents in nearby Chengdu could feel the tremors from the quake. But people trying to leave their homes ran into a different obstacle: health officials blocking the exit.

Chengdu officials imposed a snap lockdown on Sept. 1, telling the city’s 21 million residents to stay at home. Only one family member is allowed to leave house each day to buy necessities. The city is also conducting a mass testing program, which will last until Wednesday, in order to achieve “COVID-Zero in the community as soon as possible,” according to a statement released late Sunday.

After the earthquake, Chinese social media users complained that COVID controls prevented them from evacuating their homes. But some staff defended their actions, with one building manager telling reporters from state-owned outlet People’s Daily that, “No matter how severe the earthquake is, it can’t be that severe. It’s safest to stay at home.”

COVID outbreak

Chengdu is one of 33 cities under some form of lockdown as China battles a new outbreak. Small-scale outbreaks have emerged throughout the country in the past month, such as in tech hub Shenzhen, tourist destination Hainan, and even remote Tibet.

Sichuan has reported 950 COVID-19 cases over the past week, the province’s worst-ever outbreak since the start of the pandemic. Chengdu officials, in addition to the snap lockdown, have also closed schools and entertainment venues, and barred anyone from leaving the city without a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours.

Chengdu alone contributes about 1.7% of China’s GDP, according to Bloomberg, and is home to factories for companies like Volvo and Apple supplier Foxconn. Volkswagen and Foxconn are keeping their factories operating under a closed-loop system, where workers are confined to their workplace, reports Bloomberg.

COVID controls also upended one of China’s largest auto exhibitions, the Chengdu Motor Show, which ended last Tuesday—five days ahead of schedule—after local authorities banned all events in an effort to stop the rise in cases. (Chengdu officials imposed the snap lockdown two days later.) China’s electric car companies, like BYD, Xpeng and Nio, had flocked to Chengdu’s auto show to show off their latest models.

Heat wave

Sichuan is also emerging from a record heat wave, with temperatures routinely breaking 104°F throughout the month of August. Low rainfall strained the province’s hydropower stations, which generates 80% of the province’s electricity. Electricity demand also spiked as the heat pushed residents to turn on their air-conditioning.

Both Sichuan and neighboring Chongqing suspended power to factories on Aug. 15 to preserve electricity for homes. Power curbs continued for over two weeks, dirupting supply chains for companies like Toyota and Tesla

In addition, China’s Ministry of Agriculture warned that low rainfall presented a “serious threat” to the country’s fall harvest. 

High temperatures also sparked forest fires throughout the province. Chinese social media was flooded with pictures of health workers testing both residents and firefighters, sometimes with fires visible in the background. 

Chongqing and Sichuan finally restored power to industry on Aug. 30, after torrential rain ended the drought and led to flood warnings throughout the province. 

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