Love in the time of coronavirus: A quiet Valentine's Day in China
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: December 1, 2020 - 9:45pm

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

December 1, 2020 - 9:45pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,468,873 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Tuesday.

At least 63,227,470 cases have been registered. Of these, at least 40,255,800 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. — AFP

December 1, 2020 - 4:06pm

The Department of Health reports 1,298 additional cases of the coronavirus disease. This brings the national tall to 32,925.

To date, there are 25,725 active. The health department registers 27 new deaths and 135 more recoveries.

December 1, 2020 - 2:02pm

The UN says that $35 billion would be needed for aid in 2021, as the pandemic leaves tens of millions more people in crisis, and with the risk of multiple famines looming.

The world body's annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 235 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year -- a staggering 40-percent increase in the past year.

"The increase arises almost entirely because of Covid-19," United Nations emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock says. — AFP 

December 1, 2020 - 12:36pm

Canada's budget deficit is projected to balloon to a record US$284 billion as government spending skyrockets to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, the finance minister announces. 

The amount for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which began on April 1, is higher than an estimate of Can$343 billion announced in July and almost 20 times higher than the shortfall in the last budget released in March 2019, before the pandemic.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland also says the government was preparing to spend another Can$70 billion to Can$100 billion over three years to jolt the economy once the pandemic is over. — AFP 

November 30, 2020 - 12:49pm

America should prepare for a "surge upon a surge" in coronavirus cases as millions of travelers return home after the Thanksgiving holiday, top US scientist Anthony Fauci warned Sunday.

The United States is the world's worst-affected country, with 266,831 COVID-19 deaths, and US President Donald Trump's administration has issued conflicting messages on mask-wearing, travel and the danger posed by the virus.

"There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel," Fauci told CNN's "State of the Union." 

Travel surrounding Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday made this the busiest week in US airports since the pandemic began.

"We may see a surge upon a surge" in two or three weeks, Fauci added. "We don't want to frighten people, but that's the reality." — AFP

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