Disney’s theme park in Shanghai, China will reopen on May 11 after being closed for over three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Disney CEO Bob Chapek. The park will observe new rules on everything from face masks to the number of people who will be allowed to enter the park at one time in what could be a trial run for the rest of Disney’s parks in the U.S., Japan, France, and Hong Kong.
Shanghai Disney will be required by the Chinese government to not exceed 30 per cent of the park’s capacity, which is roughly 80,000 people per day. That means roughly 24,000 people will be allowed in daily, though next week it will be “far below” even 24,000 according to Chapek. Both employees and attendees at the park will be required to wear masks and new social distancing markers will be set up, along with temperature checks.
“In terms of Shanghai, it’s going to be masks for guests and employees,” Chapek said on an earnings call Tuesday. “The only characters that will not wear masks are the face characters and they’ll be at a distance from crowds.”
“Face characters” refers to Disney workers who walk around dressed up as human characters from films, such as Snow White, Elsa, and Cinderella as opposed to characters that require full-body costumes like Mickey Mouse.
Chapek also said that Shanghai Disneyland will have “contact tracing and early detection systems” but did not go into detail about what those programs might entail. Shanghai Shendi Group, a company controlled by the Chinese government, owns 57 per cent of Shanghai Disneyland.
Shanghai Disney, the only Disney park on the Chinese mainland, was closed on January 25, followed by Hong Kong Disney on January 26. Tokyo Disney closed on January 29, and Disneyland Paris closed on March 14. The U.S. Disney theme parks, with Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida, were also closed on March 14.
When Shanghai Disney closed its gates in late January the disease had sickened just 881 people globally and killed 26. There are currently 3.6 million cases and over 257,000 deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker.
Chapek explained that other parks around the world may have different guidelines than Shanghai, presumably for things like park capacity and masks. Americans in particular have been resistant to the idea of wearing masks after U.S. medical professionals initially said they were unnecessary to fight the disease. Many western medical experts have since reversed course and acknowledged that masks help prevent the spread of covid-19, though the U.S. public remains sceptical.
Another thing that will be different as Shanghai Disney reopens is that the company will sell theme park tickets that are only good for a specific date, something that may be tested elsewhere around the world if it works in China.
“In terms of sort of contingency plans going forward, one of the ways that we’re going to deal with this situation in Shanghai, and that’s no promise that we’ll deal with that the same way domestically, but is through dated tickets so that you don’t have a whole bunch of people showing up at your gates and then finding out that we’ve reached our limit by 9:00 a.m. and then they go back disappointed,” Chapek said.
The announcement of Shanghai Disney’s imminent reopening comes as China has done a largely successful job of suppressing the number of cases in the country through very strict lockdowns. China has identified over 80,000 cases of covid-19 and 4,637 deaths.
The U.S. has not successfully gotten cases to go down, thanks in large part to incompetent government led by President Donald Trump. The U.S. currently has identified over 1.2 million covid-19 cases and over 71,078 deaths, the largest number in the world, and Trump has more or less admitted that Americans must die to improve the economy—something he’d like to see happen.
“There’ll be more death, that the virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal,” Trump said during a trip to a mask factory in Arizona on Tuesday.
“The people of our country are warriors,” Trump said. “I’m not saying anything is perfect. Yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country opened and we have to get it open soon.”
Getting the economy roaring again is obviously a global concern, though Disney admits some parks were doing better than others, even before the pandemic hit. As Chapek pointed out on the Disney earnings call, the Hong Kong theme park was already going to be experiencing some financial losses due to “domestic issues,” as he called them, referring to the pro-democracy protests that embroiled the region of 7 million people in 2019.
“We had already telegraphed that there would be some softness in Hong Kong and then this closure of the park just accelerated the losses there,” Chapek said.
When will the U.S. Disney parks open back up? There’s no word on that yet, and if America’s handling of the pandemic is any indication, it could be a very long time from now. The U.S. is still reporting over 20,000 new cases of covid-19 per day, roughly one in ten or one in twenty of the actual number of cases, according to former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb. And some states like Georgia are loosening already loose restrictions on movement, something that will almost certainly see cases spike.
Opening up too early could also expose companies like Disney to lawsuits, provided they don’t get liability protections like the meat industry has received. Last week, President Trump used the Defence Production Act to mandate that all meat processing facilities in the U.S. remain open, something that shields meat companies from potential lawsuits by employees. Which is good for the meat companies, which have seen some of the worst outbreaks in the world. The only question: Is Disney World as essential as meat production?