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: June 6, 2020 - 4:07pm

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

June 6, 2020 - 4:07pm

The Department of Health reports 350 additional cases of the coronavirus disease, bringing the total infection count to  21,340.

One hundred eleven patients have recovered from the deadly virus and seven died. 

June 6, 2020 - 10:56am

The coronavirus pandemic killed 922 people in the United States in the past 24 hours, according to figures released by Johns Hopkins University.

The latest deaths bring the total in the United States to 109,042, and there have been more than 1.89 million cases, according to a real-time tally maintained by the Baltimore-based university at 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Saturday).

Some 491,000 people have recovered from the disease. — AFP

June 5, 2020 - 4:56pm

The Department of Health reports that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the Philippines climbed to 20,626 as of Friday, June 5, 2020.

There are 244 additional cases, 82 recoveries and three new deaths.

June 5, 2020 - 9:16am

Brazil's death toll from the novel coronavirus has surged to become the third-highest in the world, surpassing Italy's, according to official figures released Thursday.

The South American country of 210 million people reported a new record of 1,473 deaths in 24 hours, bringing its overall toll to 34,021, from 614,941 infections, the health ministry said.

Italy has confirmed 33,689 deaths from 234,013 infections. — AFP 

June 5, 2020 - 7:26am

 The novel coronavirus has killed at least 387,280 people since the outbreak first emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT on Thursday. 

At least 6,563,710 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 2,838,800 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

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