Vibrant red lanterns line an alley in Wuhan, China, expectant decorations for a holiday that traditionally sees these alleyways thronged with revellers. But customers only trickle in.
Gong Linhua recalls earlier years, when her store was packed and the street outside was bustling with snack carts and jostling crowds.
“This is the first time in 20 years of business that I’ve been in this situation,” said the seller of Lunar New Year decorations. At 60, she is contemplating retirement if the economy doesn’t pick up.
Her shop, filled with ornaments for the upcoming Year of the Ox, which will begin on February 12, is at the bottom of the commercial food chain.
Another ornament seller, Wang Cuilan, remained optimistic, even though sales have been about half a normal year so far.
She and her husband have operated a shop near Gong’s shop for about 20 years. Business is down for hotels and entertainment venues, their big-ticket customers, so orders for decorations are down, too, she said.
This year is worse for sales than last. Wuhan, the city that bore the brunt of the pandemic in China, was locked down just two days before the Lunar New Year in 2020. But by then, most Year of the Rat items had already been sold.
But a few customers were coming in last week, after a brief virus scare in Wuhan kept people at home earlier this month.
“If the epidemic situation remains stable, and if there’s good weather, I believe they will all be sold out, within the last 10 or more days,” Wang said.
She had more than the business on her mind, as the Lunar New Year is when families reunite. For many migrant workers, who leave their hometowns for better-paying jobs, it is their one trip back every year.
Wang wonders if her 26-year-old daughter, who works in neighbouring Hunan province, will miss New Year’s at home for the second year in a row.
Winter has brought China’s largest COVID resurgence to date, with more than 2,000 new cases and two deaths in January. The numbers are small compared with other countries, but enough for worried officials to curb travel and activities for Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year) one of the biggest holidays of the year.