China emerges from the pandemic
Something almost unthinkable has happened in China: a return to normality - from morning tai chi in the Sun Temple in Beijing to lunch in the central business district to the rush at sunset over the Avenue of Eternal Peace.
Chairman Mao Zedong watches over Tiananmen Square and a country living in a "new normal after COVID".
It's hard to believe that cities across China, with millions of people, looked like ghost towns earlier this year. In January, CBS News became the first U.S. network in Wuhan to start the pandemic. The government hit back hard and fast, forcing up to 50 million people to lock up for two months. New hospitals built in less than two weeks; some families weld in their homes; Testing and tracking contacts, dismounting quickly on new outbreaks; Introduction of a QR health code system on smartphones; Almost all foreigners are banned from entering the country; and to put everyone who was allowed to return (including correspondent Ramy Inocencio) to a 14-day quarantine in a government-designated hotel, all thanks to a mixture of authoritarian rule and the memory of SARS in 2003.
When COVID peaked in February, Shanghai and the city's historic Bund stood eerily still. But not anymore.
The streets of Shanghai were eerily empty when the coronavirus outbreak hit earlier this year. The streets are no longer empty. / Credit: CBS News
The crowds have returned and most of the masks have not.
The sheer normalcy of this is strange, Inocencio said, almost as if COVID didn't happen at all.
In a country of 1.4 billion people, officially fewer than 5,000 people are believed to have died, compared to more than 210,000 (and more) in the United States.
China's critics say the death toll is too low to be true, a fair claim for a country where bad news is often covered up.
Last week, President Trump eagerly reminded America of where COVID began: "It was China's fault and China will pay a heavy price for what they did to this country," he said.
Roark Jones from Georgia is in his sophomore year on the New York University campus in Shanghai. With a mandatory mask, a flash of a health code and a temperature test, he will attend his courses. While most of the international students fled, Jones decided to stay.
"I was basically in my dorm the whole time in February," Jones said. "And then, in April, things were pretty open. Now sometimes people don't even wear masks outside. Basically, the pandemic doesn't exist here."
Now mixed mode classes, from statistics to modern dance, are another new normal: some students are physically in the room, others are virtual. Nobody makes a fuss.
The courses are a mixture of face-to-face and virtual participation. / Credit: CBS News
Jones said, "Everyone in China is very willing to adhere to policies to contain the disease. One thing that has inspired me is that everyone has been quarantined."
And the result: business is back and bustling, like China's first Shake Shack, where Joyce Du is a proud CEO.
Inocencio asked, "When was this Shake Shack closed due to coronavirus?"
"Shut down?" She answered. "We're not closing."
"You never closed?"
"Never. We work every day and every time."
"What do you think is the single most important prevention measure you want to share with American restaurants?"
"Wear the mask!" You smiled.
Over the course of life, the show will also be shown in Hangzhou, 100 miles west, home of Cirque du Soleil's only operating show, by 44 in the world. Half of the artists are Chinese. The other half internationally from the USA, Canada, Russia, Australia and France.
Acrobats have been dancing, turning and flying in front of a masked audience since June.
Inocencio asked Yvonne Yuen, the show's technical director, "Has there ever been a coronavirus incident?"
"Not with the audience, not with our staff," Yuen replied. "So we were very lucky. I would say China is really one of the safest places in the world right now, in terms of the COVID situation."
NYU's Roark Jones might agree: "If I went back to the US now, to be honest, I'd be a little nervous."
And it would be difficult for him to come back. China is keeping its borders closed to most foreigners to keep the coronavirus out as well. In a country with more than 3,000 years of history, China's leaders intend there will be at least 3,000 more.
Story produced by Warren Serink. Editor: Randy Schmidt.
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