A COVID scare trapped 33,000 visitors inside Shanghai Disneyland in a ‘surreal’ scene

On Sunday, Shanghai Disneyland, a theme park partially owned by entertainment giant Disney, promised customers that they were in for “wicked Halloween surprises.” Safe to say that no one expected the biggest shock of the day to be medical staff in hazmat suits conducting mass tests for COVID-19, with tens of thousands of visitors being unable to leave.

On Sunday, Shanghai Disneyland went into a partial lockdown after a woman who visited the park on Saturday tested positive for COVID-19.

Shanghai Disneyland closed the park’s indoor venues and stopped allowing new visitors to enter the park on Sunday evening. A few outdoor roller coasters and other attractions stayed open, even as staff and government authorities quietly sealed off the park’s gates so no one could exit without first submitting to a mandated nucleic acid COVID-19 test.

The partial closing of the park created bizarre scenes that went viral on Chinese social media. Hundreds of people in full medical hazmat suits were seen testing young children and other park-goers as a Disney-themed fireworks display erupted overhead.

Government authorities also shut down a subway line connecting the park to the city and sent 220 buses to take visitors home for self-isolation. Disneyland announced Sunday that each visitor will need to get another COVID-19 test on Monday, while Shanghai authorities said Monday that everyone who had visited the park on Saturday or Sunday should stay home from work or school for at least two days and monitor their health for two weeks.

Shanghai’s government announced on Monday that it had tested over 33,000 people connected to the possible Disneyland outbreak. None tested positive. Still, Shanghai Disneyland announced that it will remain closed on Monday and Tuesday, and possibly longer.

Tourists wait to receive a COVID-19 nucleic acid test at Shanghai Disney Resort on Oct. 31, 2021. The resort conducted on-site tests for over 33,000 people on Sunday night.
VCG/VCG/Getty Images

“We will notify guests as soon as we have a confirmed date to resume operations,” Disney said in a statement.

Shanghai Disneyland has been a bright spot for Disney during the pandemic. In 2020, Shanghai Disneyland welcomed 5.5 million visitors to become the second-most visited theme park in the world behind Disney World in Florida, according to the Themed Entertainment Association. Its No. 2 ranking was a nine-place jump from 2019 that reflected China’s swift containment of COVID-19. Disney reopened the park in May 2020, months before its other locations. Disney does not release attendance or revenue statistics for individual parks, but the entertainment giant noted that “higher results” than expected from Shanghai Disneyland helped offset losses in other parts of its business in the third quarter, which ended July 3.

The measures that China took to quell a potential outbreak at Shanghai Disneyland illustrate China’s continued pursuit of a COVID-zero strategy, which does not tolerate any COVID-19 infections and deploys stringent measures like sweeping lockdowns, mass testing, and intensive contact tracing to ward off any spread.

China’s COVID-zero strategy has proved largely successful. The country has recorded 4,512 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, a fraction of the toll in places like the U.S., where over 745,000 people have died from COVID-19.

But the Delta variant has made the virus more difficult for China to contain, and periodic outbreaks have become more commonplace across the country.

“Within the past 14 days, 14 provincial areas have reported new locally transmitted cases or asymptomatic carriers,” Mi Feng, the spokesperson for China’s National Health Commission, said on Saturday. China has recorded an average of 27 new COVID-19 cases per day in the past week, and imposed lockdowns in hotspots like the northern city of Heihe and the western city of Lanzhou.

“The outbreak is still developing rapidly, and the virus control situation is severe and complicated,” Mi said.

But China’s COVID-zero strategy, and its mandated 14- to 21-day hotel quarantines for foreign visitors or returning citizens, is making the country increasingly isolated from the world as once closed-off peers like Singapore, Australia, and Vietnam pursue plans to reopen their borders.

It is unclear how long China’s COVID-zero stance will persist. Even a high vaccination rate has not pushed the government to consider deviating from the policy. China has fully vaccinated 76.5% of its population, compared with 57.9% in the U.S. and 67% in the European Union, according to Bloomberg.

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