Chinese authorities are strictly limiting access to cemeteries amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, as the country enters the two-week period around the Ching Ming Festival on April 4, when people traditionally visit the graves of their ancestors.
In light of the coronavirus outbreak, local governments have been urging the public for weeks to make reservations online to visit cemeteries, or to try virtual tomb-sweeping instead.
Saturday was the first day of the reserved visits in Shanghai, with the city's 54 cemeteries providing 105,000 slots for on-site tomb-sweeping. Some 79,200 people made reservations for Saturday, with 78,600 actually attending, according to local news portal Thepaper.cn. A total of 685,000 people have made reservations in Shanghai for the tomb-sweeping period between March 28 and April 12.
In the capital city of Beijing, traffic restrictions on access roads were put in place in addition to requiring reservations to visit local cemeteries. The Beijing News reported that a few roads around the Babaoshan Cemetery were blocked, and one gate to the graveyard was closed, so that cars could only enter and exit through a single route to avoid congestion.
Tables were set up outside the subway station close to the Babaoshan Cemetery offering disinfectant, alcohol wipes and a waste bin for face masks. Visitors also had to show identification as well as have their temperature taken before entering the cemetery.
The restrictions kept many people away, with The Beijing News reporting that visits to cemeteries in Beijing's Fengtai district were down 93 per cent compared with last year.
Many chose to pay their respects in a less traditional way. About 578 families in Beijing made reservations online with the Babaoshan Cemetery, which provided three teams of staff to help them pay their respects to their ancestors. The staff members wore full-body protective gear while cleaning and sweeping the tombs and placing chrysanthemum bouquets on them.
In the southern province of Guangdong, the government temporarily suspended visits for on-site tomb-sweeping. Instead, multiple cemeteries are offering online services.
On the official website of the Guangzhou Yinhe Martyrs' Cemetery, when a user clicks on "offerings", fruit, brown sugar buns, roast pig and duck appear in front of a tomb image on the page. The user can also choose to light candles, burn incense, decorate the tomb with flowers, as well as place cups of the fiery liquor baijiu in front of it. They can also write their ancestor's name on the tomb image and leave messages they want to send them.
On a Guangdong government WeChat app, users can also register their ancestor's name, dates of birth and death and create a personalised page with photos, flowers and messages. They can choose to save that page or share it with their friends.
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