Love in the time of coro­n­avirus

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page -

BEI­JING (AFP) – 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.”

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