As Valentine's Day approached, Xu Chongmei, a rose farmer in eastern China's Shandong Province, was anxious as he stood beside his greenhouse.
It used to be the busiest time of year for his family and the town of Zhaoxian in Juxian County, which sells nearly 10 million fresh cut roses annually. But this year, sales before the festival have taken a hit due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in China.
"Most of our town's revenue comes from sales around Valentine's Day," said Tian Chengyong, who heads one of the local cooperatives.
Rose farmers often adjust the temperature in the greenhouse and control the flower's hibernation period to ensure that they bloom right before the festival as more Chinese opt to use roses to express their love.
In 2019, flower sales ahead of Valentine's Day surged 339 percent on China's popular e-commerce platform JD.com, company data showed.
This year, some farmers in Zhaoxian saw few sales before Valentine's Day as many flower shops delayed opening and as customers opted to stay at home due to the new virus, Tian said.
The local government has raced to offer support for the farmers in expanding sales channels and boosting publicity online since last week.
It contacted local supermarkets to help set up a special section for selling flowers at a relatively low price, and the local internet regulator contacted online celebrities to help with live streaming about the products.
"In a few hours, orders have surged, and we are working hard to meet the demand," said Xu, the rose farmer.
The local government estimated that 180,000 online orders totalling 4.5 million flowers have been placed. The local malls and supermarkets ordered over 1 million flowers, and two large local enterprises also ordered over 1 million.
"It is remarkable to see the help from all sides during this difficult time," said Qi Zeming, a local flower farmer.
As of Feb. 8, Tian's village had received orders for over 8 million flowers.
In recent days, his cooperative transformed a 1,000-square-meter flower shed into a workshop, and dozens of farmers arrive before 6:00 a.m. to package the flowers.
Zhang Qiang, who lives in the city of Rizhao about 80 km from Zhaoxian Town, received the roses he ordered online from the town on Wednesday.
"The flowers add color to life, and knowing that I'm helping someone else, I think it's more significant on this special occasion," said Zhang, who plans to send the flowers to his wife, a community worker who has been busy with epidemic control recently.
"Love and confidence will surely help us win the fight against the epidemic," he said.