Tokyo Disneyland, Legoland Japan, and Universal Studios Japan will close their gates for at least two weeks on Saturday over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak that has sickened at least 226 people and killed four in Japan alone. The closures were announced on Friday after the Japanese government suggested a two-week ban on large public gatherings and the shuttering of schools on Wednesday.
The closure of Tokyo Disneyland includes Disney’s sister theme park, DisneySea, and is the first time the parks have been closed for an extended period of time since the 2011 earthquake in the region, according to Kyodo News. China’s Shanghai Disneyland was closed on January 25 and Hong Kong Disneyland was closed on January 26. Both parks are closed indefinitely.
The operator of Disney’s theme parks in Japan, Oriental Land, announced that it tentatively planned to open the parks again on March 16 but would consult with government authorities before any final decisions were made. Disney’s hotels and monorails in the region will remain open while the parks are closed.
All of the major theme parks that have closed their gates announced that customers could get refunds, though Universal Studios Japan notes on its website that people should not travel to the park for refunds and instead contact their travel agency.
Events around the world have been cancelled all week, including Facebook’s F8 conference in May and the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland scheduled for next week, but Japan’s request to close all schools through April has arguably been the most far-reaching government request outside of China to date.
The Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been hit with criticism over the past week due to its poor handling of the coronavirus crisis. Public health officials believe that the country’s relatively low rate of illness from COVID-19 are largely due to insufficient testing and there are widespread reports of people who had fevers for weeks and still weren’t tested because of incredibly narrow government criteria.
From the Washington Post:
Japan initially limited tests to people who had developed symptoms and had travelled to China, or had come into close contact with an infected person. But it later expanded tests to people who had a fever for four consecutive days, or two days if the patient was elderly or pregnant. Many experts say those rules are too rigid but are not even being respected because there are not enough tests.
The tests themselves are also insufficiently sensitive, some experts say. They note that many former passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who tested negative in Japan have gone on to be tested positive in the United States, Australia, Hong Kong and Israel.
One of the complicating factors in Japan is that it’s in the unusual situation of having no equivalent to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), something that virtually every other wealthy nation uses to coordinate a response to pandemic situations. The coronavirus crisis response is being coordinated through top levels of the government, something that’s also occurred under an increasingly authoritarian U.S. regime under President Donald Trump.
The problems in Japan are almost identical to those in the United States, as local authorities in California and New York complain that the CDC has bungled screening for COVID-19. The CDC shipped test kits to local health authorities early this month, but they were found to be faulty and new tests haven’t yet shown up in most regions of the country.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio held a press conference on Wednesday, explaining that the CDC was making “perfect be the enemy of good” by not providing tests to the state health authorities, and instead requiring all patient samples be sent to Atlanta. Samples from one suspected case of COVID-19 in New York were sent to Atlanta on Thursday but the city won’t have results for 48 hours because of the current procedures.
California Governor Gavin Newsom gave a similar press conference on Thursday, saying that while the state is currently monitoring roughly 8,400 people for possible infection, they only have about 200 test kits from the CDC.
“That is simply inadequate to do justice to the kind of testing we need,” Newsom told reporters.
California currently has 28 confirmed cases of the disease, mostly in people brought back from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, though a new case of community transmission was detected earlier this week in Northern California.
The CDC finally changed its criteria for who should be tested for COVID-19 on Thursday, and people who have never been to China will now be allowed to get the test. But it’s still unclear how quickly reliable tests will be distributed across the country, nor who will pay for them.
A man named Osmel Martinez Azcue in Miami, Florida was recently stuck with a medical bill for $US3,270 ($4,967) after getting tested for the seasonal flu. Azcue returned from China with flu-like symptoms and his employer, a medical device company that ironically doesn’t provide him with health insurance, asked Azcue to go to the hospital to make sure he didn’t have the coronavirus.
From the Miami Herald:
Hospital officials at Jackson told the Miami Herald that, based on his insurance, Azcue would only be responsible for $US1,400 ($2,126) of that bill, but Azcue said he heard from his insurer that he would also have to provide additional documentation: three years of medical records to prove that the flu he got didn’t relate to a preexisting condition.
If there’s anything to be learned from Azcue’s situation, it’s that the U.S. health system is wildly unprepared to deal with what lies ahead in the coming weeks.