Covid-19 puts love on hold
– 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 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 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 said.
In Beijing, Valentine’s Day specials aimed at couples – from a My Heart Will Go On concert to a 1 688 yuan (R3 500) 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 said. “I don’t dare to receive them and he doesn’t dare to buy them.”
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 said sales plunged by up to 70% from last year – partly because many have not returned to the city to work.
Lu Ting, chief China economist at Nomura, said the “return rate” of workers for China’s four Tier-1 cities was only 19.4% as of 9 February, far below 66.7% a year ago.
A worker at Romanti Fresh Flowers said sales had dropped 50% in part because customers were fearful of virus transmission via delivery staff, while another shop said 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 get married on Valentine’s Day.
That’s been delayed due to the epidemic, said Zhu. – AFP