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Chinese, Hong Kong Couples Celebrate Valentine's Day With Masks, Not Roses

A man wears a gas mask as he holds a bouquet of flowers, following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus on Valentine’s Day in Hong Kong, China, Feb. 14, 2020.

As millions of couples are stranded at home across China and Hong Kong this Valentine’s Day to avoid infection of coronavirus, masks and alcoholic sanitizers have emerged as the most sought after gifts this year, overtaking the more romantic flowers and chocolates.

A Chinese delivery company says its top sales on Valentine’s Day this year are surgical masks, protective goggles and alcohol wipes. A Valentine poem circulated on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog, which says, “Stay at home with your family! Use video calls to pass on your words of love! Gifts should be practical and the most precious ones are masks! Masks and roses are sure to earn her love!”

A video footage carried by Beijing Time, an online TV station, shows a mask-wearing young man waiting for his bus driver girlfriend with an elegantly wrapped, colorful bouquet of masks and roses.

“The epidemic is quite bad, and she is in a high-risk profession. I think nothing is more sincere than masks right now,” he said. After parking her bus and being presented with the bouquet, his girlfriend, also wearing a mask, was clearly delighted. “I am so touched!” she said, before the couple hugged.

Flower shop owner Iris Leung wears her protective face mask as she delivers flowers with masks to customers on Valentine's Day in Hong Kong, Feb. 14, 2020.
Flower shop owner Iris Leung wears her protective face mask as she delivers flowers with masks to customers on Valentine's Day in Hong Kong, Feb. 14, 2020.

Many couples in China and Hong Kong are separated on Valentine’s Day this year as officials have been urging individuals to refrain from social gatherings and going out to avoid infection of coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,380 in China and infected nearly 64,000 people.

Across China and Hong Kong, florists say business has plunged more than 50 percent compared with last year. The risk of infection has prompted concerts and events to be canceled, while many restaurants and shops close early.

Amid widespread anxiety over the epidemic, a survey of 572 men and women in Hong Kong conducted by dating agency HK Romance shows that 31 percent of men and 32 percent of women will stay home this year while only 27 percent say they will go out for dinner. HK Romance says this is in sharp contrast with past years, when 80-90 percent of couples would go out for dinner.

The dating agency says masks and alcohol sanitizers are the most wanted Valentine gifts for Hong Kong women this year, with 30 percent desiring those items, compared to 18 percent who want flowers, 14 percent who favor jewelry or watches, and 9 percent who opt for flights and hotel stays. For men, 32 percent want masks and alcohol sanitizers, compared with 11 percent who like electronic products.

Hong Kong has been suffering from a severe shortage of basic necessities, from masks, alcoholic sanitizers and disinfectants to toilet rolls and rice, due to panic buying prompted by the coronavirus outbreak. Even public hospitals are now running out of masks and protective gear — anger at government incompetence among staff prompted a partial strike last week.