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Coronavirus

Love At First Swab, Romance At A French COVID Testing Center

She looked into his eyes, he shoved a q-tip up her nose, and they may live happily ever after.

Love At First Swab, Romance At A French COVID Testing Center

In the middle of a global pandemic and its neverending curfews, social interactions are rare and the dating game is on hold almost everywhere. But then there's France, where romance can strike where you least expect it.

Back in November 2020 in the eastern city of Belfort, Julie Bongiovanni, 21, became a COVID contact-case and had to get herself tested, reports local French newspaper L'Est Républicain.

Having been tested once before, she knew of the pain the nasal swab caused, so wasn't exactly looking forward to it. But as medical staff worker Mickaël Peter, 21, approached with the dreaded q-tip, she looked into his eyes and … l'amour.

Despite his facemask, protective glasses, hairnet and nurse's blouse, one gaze was all it took for the two of them to fall head over heels in love.

After a few nasal-passage-triggered tears, a long conversation ensued — so long, that one of Mickaël's colleagues came to check if everything was alright. Cupid's cotton swab had struck, they kept in touch via social media, agreeing to a date the week after her negative results — this time without masks. ("I hadn't even noticed he had a beard!")

Now, five months later, Julie has moved into Mickaël's place in the eastern city of Alsace. Leave it to the French, we might say, to discover the opposite of social distancing.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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