Welcome Physics World  September 2020

China: a country reopens after COVID-19

This year has been dominated by one event: the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan before quickly spreading throughout the world. The severe impact of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been felt by all and physicists are no exception. Universities and research facilities all shut their doors in early February as scientists headed home under lockdown. While China grappled with the outbreak, the quick response by the Chinese government resulted in fewer official cases and deaths than experienced in the west, which has seen the US and some countries in Europe hit particularly hard.

In this Physics World China Briefing, we report how universities around the country are now slowly beginning to reopen, despite a few localized outbreaks. But without a vaccine on the immediate horizon, progress will remain slow and cautious, and international collaborations will likely remain online-only for the foreseeable future.

The impact of COVID-19 has already hit many scientific conferences, some of which have had to switch at short notice to online platforms. One example is Quantum 2020 – a major international conference in quantum technology organized by the Institute of Physics (IOP) and IOP Publishing in partnership with the Chinese Physical Society (CPS) and the University of Science and Technology of China. Due to be held in Shanghai, it will now take place entirely online on 19–22 October. Undeterred by this virtual shift, the conference organizers have managed to create an exciting programme featuring many high-profile speakers from around the world.

Senior figures from IOP, which publishes Physics World, were also planning to send a high-profile delegation to China this month, That venture had to be put on hold, but they are now setting their sights on a physical visit at the first opportunity once restrictions lift. Still, the IOP has been active during the global lockdown in other ways – notably gathering key figures from physics societies from around the world, including the CPS, in a high-level online forum held in July. The meeting, which could now become a permanent fixture, discussed how the international physics community, including researchers from China, can best respond to the pandemic.

So, despite the many tragedies and lost lives caused by COVID-19, it has brought together physicists from China with those from other countries in an unexpected way. And although there are challenges, there is also optimism that things will get better and that physics will eventually return to a “new normal”, whatever that may be.