Wuhan (Reuters) – China on Saturday mourned the thousands of “martyrs” who have died in the new coronavirus outbreak, flying the national flag at half mast throughout the country and suspending all forms of entertainment.
The day of mourning coincided with the start of the annual Qingming tomb-sweeping festival, when millions of Chinese families pay respects to their ancestors.
At 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) Beijing time, the country observed three minutes of silence to mourn those who died, including frontline medical workers and doctors. Cars, trains and ships sounded their horns and air raid sirens wailed.
In Zhongnanhai, the seat of political power in Beijing, President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders paid silent tribute in front of the national flag, with white flowers pinned to their chest as a mark of mourning, state media reported.
More than 3,300 people in mainland China have died in the epidemic, which first surfaced in the central province of Hubei late last year, according to statistics published by the National Health Commission.
In Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and the epicentre of the outbreak, all traffic lights in urban areas turned red at 10 a.m. and all road traffic ceased for three minutes.
Some 2,567 people have died in Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million people located in the middle reaches of the Yangtze river. The Wuhan deaths account for more than 75% of the country’s fatalities.
Among those who died was Li Wenliang, a young doctor who tried to raise the alarm about the disease. Li was honoured by the Hubei government earlier this week, after initially being reprimanded by police in Wuhan for “spreading rumours”.
Gui Yihong, 27, who was among thousands of Wuhan locals who volunteered to deliver food supplies to hospitals during the city’s months-long lockdown, recalled the fear, frustration and pain at Wuhan Central Hospital, where Li worked.
“If you weren’t at the frontlines you wouldn’t be able to experience this,” said Gui, as he laid some flowers next to Wuhan’s 1954 flood memorial by the Yangtze.
“I had to (come) and bear witness. For the last 80 days we had fought between life and death, and finally gained victory. It was not easy at all to come by.”
While the worst was behind Wuhan, the virus has spread to all corners of the globe since January, sickening more than a million people, killing more than 55,000 and paralysing the world economy.
Wuhan banned all tomb-sweeping activities in its cemeteries until at least April 30, curtailing one of the most important dates in the traditional Chinese lunar new year calendar which usually sees millions of families travel to tend to their ancestral graves, offer flowers and burn incense.
They have also told residents, most stuck at home due to lockdown restrictions, to use online streaming services to watch cemetery staff carry out those tasks live.
Online, celebrities including “X-Men: Days of Future Past” star Fan Bingbing swapped their glamorous social media profile pictures for sombre photos in grey or black, garnering millions of “likes” from fans.
Chinese gaming and social media giant Tencent (0700.HK) suspended all online games on Saturday.
As of Friday, the total number of confirmed cases across the country stood at 81,639, including 19 new infections, the National Health Commission said.
Eighteen of the new cases involved travellers arriving from abroad. The remaining one new infection was a local case in Wuhan, a patient who was previously asymptomatic.
Asymptomatic people exhibit few signs of infection such as fevers or coughs, and are not included in the tally of confirmed cases by Chinese authorities until they do.
However, they are still infectious, and the government has warned of possible local transmissions if such asymptomatic cases are not properly monitored.
China reported 64 new asymptomatic cases as of Friday, including 26 travellers arriving in the country from overseas. That takes the total number of asymptomatic people currently under medical observation to 1,030, including 729 in Hubei.