This photo taken on February 12, 2020 shows florist Zhao Yuanyuan wearing a protective face mask as she arranges flowers in her shop in Shanghai ahead of Valentine's Day. Couples around China are settling for a quiet Valentine's Day this year, with the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus as an unwelcome third-wheel in romantic celebrations.
AFP/Noel Celis
Love in the time of coronavirus: A quiet Valentine's Day in China
Eva Xiao, Jing Xuan Teng, Beiyi Seow (Agence France-Presse) - February 14, 2020 - 4:08pm

BEIJING, China — It was supposed to be a whirlwind tour of China for Jiang Lanyi's boyfriend: classical gardens in Suzhou, modern art in Shanghai, ice-skating in central Beijing.

Instead, the 24-year-old and her Ukrainian partner have spent more than two weeks holed up in her parents' house in northeast Liaoning province to avoid the new coronavirus.

Couples around China settled for a quiet Valentine's Day this year, with COVID-19 intruding as an unwelcome third-wheel in romantic celebrations.

The new disease has infected nearly 64,000 people and killed more than 1,350 in China, triggering transport restrictions, restaurant shutdowns, and the closure of major tourist sites. 

Businesses around the country from florists to concert halls closed shop and axed events, leaving couples with no choice but to spend the night in.

For Jiang and her boyfriend, that meant a lot of mahjong.

"We play two to three hours every day," said Jiang, who met her partner, a tech entrepreneur, while studying in London.

"Having started learning from zero, he's now very skilled," she added.

In Beijing, Valentine's Day specials aimed at couples -- from a "My Heart Will Go On" concert to a 1,688 yuan ($240) lobster dinner for two -- were cancelled.

Valentine's Day this year "won't be that different from daily life under quarantine," said Tyra Li, who lives in Beijing with her boyfriend of nearly three years.

Since Lunar New Year, aside from a trip to see family, the couple has only left the house to buy groceries –- they don't even order food delivery for fear of infection, she said.

"There definitely won't be any flowers," the 33-year-old told AFP. "I don't dare to receive them and he doesn't dare to buy them."

Business of love

The risk of infection, which has left most lovers house-bound, has battered Valentine's Day sales for businesses hoping to cash in on love.

Flower shop Xian Hua Ge in Beijing told AFP that sales plunged by up to 70 percent from last year –- partly because many have not returned to the city to work.

Lu Ting, chief China economist at Nomura, said in a Tuesday report that the "return rate" of workers for China's four Tier-1 cities was only 19.4 percent as of February 9, far below 66.7 percent a year ago.

A worker at Romanti Fresh Flowers said sales had dropped up to 50 percent in part because customers were fearful of virus transmission via delivery staff, while another shop told AFP they had "no stock".

China's wedding industry has also taken a hit, with the Chinese government urging couples to delay their nuptials earlier this month.

Zhu He, 25, who downsized her wedding due to virus fears last month, said she and her fiance had originally planned to pick up their marriage license on Valentine's Day.

That's been delayed due to the epidemic, said Zhu, who lives in southern Guangzhou city.

"We had planned to go together (with my parents)," she told AFP. "Now, they won't come even though we all live in Guangzhou."

"They both can't drive and I don't really trust public transport," said Zhu, worried about the risk of infection.

Together in spirit

The new coronavirus has also complicated romantic trysts, with many cities across China closing off neighbourhoods to outside visitors in a bid to contain the outbreak.

Miao Jing, a university student in northern Tianjin city, said her girlfriend had to sneak into her hotel through the car park for a three-hour rendezvous earlier this month.

The trip was supposed to last three days, explained the 23-year-old, who took a five-hour train to northern Zhangjiakou city to see her partner.

But on the second day, the district where Miao was staying reported a confirmed case of the virus.

"She was really worried," Miao told AFP. "In the end, I only saw her on the first day."

For Shaw Wan, 28, who works on short documentaries in Beijing, the epidemic has separated her and her boyfriend –- who is in Taiwan -– indefinitely.

"I don't really want him to return either -- what if he gets infected on the way back?" she told AFP.

But there is some silver lining to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Li in Beijing said staying cooped up at home had meant more time with her boyfriend -- in the past, their busy schedules meant they only saw each other after 10pm on weekdays.

And for Miao and her girlfriend, who are in a long-distance relationship, volunteering in epidemic relief work has brought them closer together.

The two students help residents and communities in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, with remote tasks like calling to arrange car transport.

"There is a feeling of working together," she told AFP. "Even if we cannot be together physically, in some sense we are."

2019 NCOV CHINA COVID-19 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS VALENTINE’S DAY
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 17, 2020 - 6:57pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

February 17, 2020 - 6:57pm

Organizers cancel Tokyo marathon for 38,000 amateur runners over virus — AFP

February 17, 2020 - 5:10pm

An additional 99 people have tested positive for coronavirus on a cruise ship off the Japan coast, Japanese media said Monday, citing new figures from the health ministry.

That would take the total number of positive cases on the Diamond Princess to 454. The health ministry declined to confirm the reports immediately. — AFP

February 17, 2020 - 5:02pm

More than a dozen infected Americans from a coronavirus-riddled cruise ship off Japan flew on evacuation flights to the US with other passengers on Monday, as the epidemic claimed more lives in China to take the death toll above 1,700.

The COVID-19 virus has infected more than 70,500 people in its epicentre of China and sparked panic buying, economic jitters and the cancellation of high-profile sporting and cultural events.

With fresh cases emerging daily in Japan, the government has advised citizens to avoid mass gatherings, and on Monday cancelled celebrations for the Emperor's birthday — an annual jamboree that sees thousands of well-wishers descend on central Tokyo.— AFP

February 17, 2020 - 12:48pm

The Department of Health in a briefing says 453 patients under investigation have since tested negative for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

It also says that 221 of the 280 contacts??—people who may have come into contact with?—the first confirmed COVID-19 cases have completed the 14-day quarantine period.

February 17, 2020 - 9:10am

Sixteen more Filipinos onboard Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess tested positive for COVID-19 as of February 15. This brings the total number of infected Filipinos to 27.

The Japanese Health Ministry is set to tes all crew and passengers aboard the ship Monday so that results will be available by the end of the quarantine period.

"The Embassy is in close coordination with the relevant Philippine and Japanese government agencies, and representatives of the World Health Organization and Princess Cruises to ensure that the needs of the Filipino crew and passengers are met and to facilitate their return to the Philippines," the DFA said.

Philstar
  • Latest
  • Trending
Latest
Recommended
Are you sure you want to log out?
X
Login

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

SIGN IN
or sign in with