Coronavirus: China holds national ‘wail of grief’ to remember Covid-19 victims

Joe Sommerlad
People holding flowers observe a moment of silence at a memorial event in Beijing for those lost to the coronavirus pandemic: Reuters

China held a three-minute national moment of reflection on Saturday morning to honour those killed by the coronavirus outbreak, as the global number of cases passed the one million mark with the international death toll surpassing 58,000.

Citizens stood apart from one another with heads bowed at 10am local time as flags flew at half-mast and air raid sirens sounded across the nation, an astonishing moment in which the industrial superpower came to a grinding halt to pay its respects.

The virus has claimed an estimated 3,326 lives in China, with the occasion also honouring the “martyrs” who died attempting to fight the respiratory disease in the country’s hospitals.

Among the 14 healthcare workers China’s authoritarian communist government admits have died from Covid-19 is Dr Li Wenliang, the whistleblower who was threatened by police for daring to be the first to warn the international community about the threat posed by the outbreak and whose bravery has since been widely recognised.

The horns of automobiles, trains and ships joined in with what China’s official news agency Xinhua characterised as a “wail of grief” for three minutes on Saturday, the commemorations proving particularly poignant in Wuhan, the epicentre of the catastrophe.

In lockdown since 23 January, Wuhan has been hailed as a “heroic city” by the nation’s leadership for the sacrifices its 11 million citizens have made to halt the further spread of the contagion. Its quarantine is on track to be formally lifted on Wednesday.

Staging the memorial on Saturday meant it coincided with the traditional Qingming Festival or “Tomb-Sweeping Day”, on which Chinese citizens ordinarily visit the graves of their ancestors to reflect on their heritage.

Officials have banned such observances this year to avoid large gatherings that might contravene social distancing rules and increase the likelihood of a feared second wave of infections.

In Beijing, president Xi Jinping led other top ministers, all dressed in black suits and bearing white carnations, as they bowed before a flag flown at half mast at the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai.

China’s slow, cautious emergence from the global pandemic comes as the US is struggling to deal with an outbreak that has taken more than 1,860 lives in New York City alone.

Hard-hit European nations Italy, Spain and France are also seeing rising numbers of cases and deaths, although strict distancing measures akin to those adopted by China appear to be having an effect.​