China Outbreak Quiet Valentine

A server wearing a face mask carries a cup of coffee at a Moka Bros cafe in Beijing, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. For Valentine's Day Moka Bros, a health food eatery in Beijing, offered a special that included both a rose and a note logging the temperature of the chef that made the meal. Like many businesses in China, the restaurant has struggled to cope with the impact of a virus that has infected tens of thousands of people worldwide and sent several cities into lockdown. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING (AP) — In virus-stricken China, couples can celebrate Valentine’s Day with a roast beef salad, hot chocolate, a rose and a note, all delivered to their door.

The note, scrawled on the front of their sealed order, states the body temperature of the chef who made it.

Moka Bros, a health food eatery in Beijing, offered this special on Friday, Valentine’s Day, after a new coronavirus struck central China in December. Like many businesses, the restaurant has struggled to cope with the impact of a disease that has infected more than 64,000 people worldwide and sent several Chinese cities into lockdown. Fearful of infection, people are overwhelmingly choosing to stay at home and cook for themselves.

“It’s devastating,” said Alex Molina, founder and creative director of Mosto Group, which owns Moka Bros and three other restaurant and bar concepts in China.

Of the nine Moka Bros locations, only three have remained open through the outbreak. Molina is fairly certain some of the stores will be forced to close permanently, which would mean at least $1.5 million in losses.

“It’s just a matter of time. How long can we stay alive?” said Molina, a Colombian who started his first business in China in 2006. “We’ve been working on this project for 13 years, and then you see it crumble in front of your face, and there’s nothing you can do.”

The disease, named COVID-19, is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan, Hubei’s capital. It has since spread to more than 20 countries, though the bulk of the cases remain in Hubei. The government has imposed sweeping measures to contain the epidemic, cutting off outbound transportation from the hardest-hit cities and prolonging the Lunar New Year holiday.

The impact on the food, beverage and entertainment industries has been crippling. Authorities in Hubei have mandated the closure of venues like karaoke clubs and movie theaters. Beijing’s Administration for Market Regulation has banned restaurants and catering services from hosting group dinners.

Such circumstances made for an atypical Valentine’s Day. While the Qixi Festival in August is China’s traditional holiday for lovers, Feb. 14 has been eagerly adopted by young people who mark the occasion at shopping malls, restaurants and movie theaters.

Not this year.

Earlier this month, two Chinese romance films canceled their Valentine’s Day releases due to the virus.

“As a movie about young love, ‘The Enigma of Arrival’ hopes that every person who has love in their heart can be healthy and safe,” one film said in a statement posted on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform.

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