A quiet Valentine’s Day in virus-hit China

February 14, 2020
Roses and facemask
A woman wearing a protective face mask buys flowers on Valentine's Day at a flower market in Manila yesterday, as the Philippines battles the COVID-19 illness, with its ground zero in Wuhan China. AFP / Ted ALJIBE

BEIJING - 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.