‘When sirens went off, I began to cry’: China mourns virus deaths

China has held a national day of mourning in honour of those who died from the coronavirus pandemic that killed at least 3,335 people in the mainland, including 13 medical workers who died after contracting the disease while treating their patients.

The air-raid siren cracked across cities all over the country for three minutes on Saturday starting at 10am (02:00 GMT) to signal the start of the commemoration. All cars, trains and ships stopped, while blaring their horns. All entertainment activities were halted for the entire day.

The day of mourning coincided with the country’s Tomb-Sweeping Festival, also known as Qingming, during which Chinese families would traditionally visit the graves of their deceased relatives, burn some “spirit money,” and sweep the tombs as a sign of respect.
In one of the most well-known poems written about Qingming, Chinese poet Du Mu wrote, “A drizzling rain falls like tears on Mourning Day, travellers’ hearts lost in dismay.”

Many in China say that almost every year, the annual rite happens under gloomy or rainy skies, and this year the spectre of the deadly coronavirus disease has added another layer of unbearable “dismay”.

In Wuhan, the epicentre of the disease that started in late December, traffic lights turned red for three minutes, while a remembrance ceremony was held at a park by the Yangtze River. Images from the event showed people bowing their heads and closing their eyes while standing as sirens sounded.

“For us humans, we need this kind of ritual – to have a closure, or to have these memories engraved in our hearts,” Luo Qiang, a Wuhan resident, said.
“When the sirens went off, it’s almost impossible not to weep or imagine all the hearts broken and lives lost over this epidemic.”

Luo Qiang said he changed his Weibo avatar to black and white, like many others on the social media platform, to pay respect to those whose lives were claimed by the virus.

It is expected that the lockdown in Wuhan will be lifted in four days.
‘A day of despair’

In the capital, Beijing, the Chinese national flag was flown at half-mast in the middle of Tiananmen Square as the sound of a siren wailed in grief across the city.

In Chengdu, one of the most important commercial centres in western China, non-stop rain beginning the previous night left a gloomy atmosphere in the city, as cars stopped at intersections while honking in-sync with the sirens.

For those who have lost their loved ones in the outbreak, Saturday marked a day of despair, as many collected the ashes of their deceased family members.

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