Pandemic taking its toll on wedding banquets in China

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You Fangming, 26, postponed what should have been her May wedding ceremony and will have it in September instead, hoping the banquet won't be cancelled due to the impact of the novel coronavirus in the coastal city of Dalian, Liaoning province.

"We first planned to register our marriage on Feb 7 and have the wedding reception on May 16. But the novel coronavirus outbreak postponed everything," she said last week at the marriage registration office at the Dalian Xigang Public Affairs Service Center.

As the pandemic has waned across the country, young couples have rushed to get married. The difficulty comes with the wedding banquets, essential events for tying the knot, according to Chinese social norms. Most cities have clamped down on public gatherings for the sake of public health. Banquets are banned.

In Dalian, restaurants were allowed to reopen, but not for large-scale banquets. You's guest list numbered about 300.

But for You, it's even more complicated, as she wouldn't want a child to be born before the wedding ceremony despite her legal marriage status.

So she rescheduled with the hotel for September.

"There was only one day available that month for a wedding banquet," she said. "Everything was booked."

But she conceded she wasn't sure if even a September date would take place as scheduled. "It all depends on the epidemic. It seems we just booked a possibility."

Yuan Bao, sales manager at the La Belle Wedding Venue, a wedding planning company in Dalian, said, "We hope the ban on banquets will end soon. Meanwhile we have a Plan B for the business."

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Plan B is the latest trend of online weddings, where the ceremony is broadcast on a video-sharing platform such as Douyin or Bilibili. This way, happy couples can celebrate with friends and relatives without worrying about coronavirus.

"If the epidemic and the banquet ban linger, we might help arrange such weddings," Yuan said, adding that invited guests can send hongbao —gift money — through an online channel.

Large banquets are still banned in many parts of China where social distancing is still performed — including Shanxi province, Kunming in Yunnan province, and Beijing.

Wang Yiping, chairman of the Sichuan Wedding Trade Association, said that more than 10,000 wedding ceremonies had been postponed in Sichuan province because of the epidemic.

He expected the wedding market to rebound in the second half of this year-assuming the pandemic is manageable and further relaxation of containment policies takes place.

On March 25, Sichuan announced an end to its temporary ban on group dinners, which was imposed earlier for contagion control.

But locals were cautious.

Wang cited a wedding held the next day on the lawn of a hotel in Chengdu, the provincial capital. The couple slashed the guest list to 60, with five people sitting at each table, when the norm is 10 a table. The hotel also took strict preventive measures, including taking everyone's temperature and disinfecting the venue.

Outdoor weddings have gained popularity, as they have better ventilation and it's easier to maintain a distance between attendees, according to industry analysts.

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