Demand for mourning flowers rises in Covid-hit Chinese province

Chrysanthemum flowers, a symbol of mourning in China, are selling out in cities across the central province of Hubei, with prices rising sharply as demand surges following a wave of Covid-19 deaths.

Li, who works at Green Plant Shop in Wuhan, the provincial capital where the virus first emerged in late 2019, said he now charged Rmb45 ($6.63) per basket, a 50 per cent year-on-year increase.

“Last year, we only charged about Rmb30 for a basket of chrysanthemums,” he added. “This year isn’t comparable with last year. So many people died of Covid this year, which has boosted market demand.”

Niu, the owner of Xingfu Flower Store, has likewise taken advantage of the increased demand, charging Rmb50 per basket. “Chrysanthemums are almost sold out. We’ve only got several baskets left,” she said.

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While chrysanthemums symbolise mourning across the country, their use to commemorate the dead during the lunar new year is particularly prevalent in Hubei.

“It’s a lunar new year tradition in Hubei province to buy them for visiting homes of relatives [of those] who recently died,” said Guan, a taxi driver in Wuhan. “This year, however, there are a lot more chrysanthemums than usual.”

After China lifted its zero-Covid restrictions last month, outbreaks surged in urban areas, and internal government estimates suggest hundreds of millions of people caught the virus in a matter of weeks.

Authorities have reported about 73,000 Covid-related deaths at hospitals across the country since pandemic controls were reversed. Analysts say the figures are an underestimation and point to signs of a rising death toll, including overcrowded hospitals, overburdened morgues and, in Hubei’s case, omnipresent chrysanthemums.

Locals have expressed surprise at the ubiquity of chrysanthemums in Wuhan © Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

One government epidemiologist suggested about 80 per cent of China’s population had already been infected with Covid. In recent days, Chinese families have crossed provincial borders and reunited over the lunar new year holiday for the first time since 2019, spurring fears of a further rise in cases.

Locals have expressed surprise at the ubiquity of mourning flowers, with one person writing online: “I have lived in Wuhan for nearly 50 years. I have never seen something like this before.”

The chrysanthemums have underscored Covid’s particularly heavy impact on Hubei province. As of late December, it had the fourth-highest infection rate among China’s provinces and municipalities, after Sichuan, Beijing and Henan, according to an estimate by Huachuang Securities.

Wild chrysanthemums, which are used in Chinese medicine, have also seen increased demand.

Chinese Herbal Medicine Network, which tracks wild chrysanthemum prices, has in recent weeks reported steady price increases in Hubei, with the flowers selling out in some cities.

Beyond flower shops, many chrysanthemums in Hubei are sold at unauthorised stands, with no owner present and only a QR code to scan and pay via WeChat.

“There were even more two weeks ago,” Jin Zhang, a visitor at Wuhan’s lantern show, said of the chrysanthemum displays. “But there should be less next year,” she said, expressing optimism that the worst of the pandemic would be over.

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