When a pandemic sweeps the globe, making large gatherings of people incredibly dangerous, how does the Walt Disney Company respond? At first, with copious amounts of Purell, but as of March 12, the operators of the world’s largest theme parks announced that California’s Disneyland would close on March 14 for only the fourth time since it opened in 1955.
Earlier in the day, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that Disneyland was exempt from a general order limiting groups of 250 or more people, citing the situation as “complex” and “unique.” However, by early afternoon, the company issued a statement saying:
While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Disneyland Resort, after carefully reviewing the guidelines of the Governor of California’s executive order and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, beginning the morning of March 14 through the end of the month.
Governor Newsom’s office also issued a statement, saying:
Late last night, California put out a new policy on mass gatherings and engaged in deep conversations with Disney and other companies about how to meet it. Using that policy, Disney made the right call in the interest of public health and agreed to shut down their California parks. Expect more announcements like this shortly.
The company is currently making decisions on a park-by-park basis. Walt Disney World Resort in Florida says it is monitoring the situation closely but remains open to the public with enhanced safety precautions in place.
Disneyland is not by any means the first Disney theme park to close. The company closed Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland in succession on January 25 and 26 to contain the spread of Covid-19, as the danger of the virus and the disease it causes quickly became clear, and both have remained closed since. However, Shanghai’s Disneytown, the outdoor mall attached to the park, began welcoming guests this week — 45 days into the closures — in what could be an optimistic sign. As “the first step of a phased reopening,” as reported by CNN, the mall is allowing guests to visit specific locations after undergoing temperature screenings, requiring them to wear masks throughout and present health records when entering a dining area. But, even as promotional videos of furry characters play on social media, the rides stand still.
When Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo requested to postpone large gatherings for two weeks last month, Tokyo Disney Resort announced it would close temporarily starting February 29. This past Monday, March 9, the park extended that closure through early April — pushing the opening of its new Beauty and the Beast ride and Fantasyland expansion at least one month later than intended. Its hotels remain open but with limited services, as character dining with Mickey Mouse and gift shops remain closed and buffets have been amended to table-service dining.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea — a locale that many theme park aficionados consider the holy grail — closed for 34 and 47 days, respectively, following the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and earthquake, a threshold that could be exceeded if the closure lasts past April 15. A new opening date has not yet been announced, but Universal Studios Japan, located a few hours away in Osaka, has extended through March 22 with the possibility of being pushed further, a far shorter window than Disney’s park.
Disneyland Paris, the most-visited location in France, also remains open, despite three employees having tested positive for coronavirus. The staff worked “backstage,” the company term for not guest-facing, and are confirmed not to have had contact with guests, according to the Financial Times.