Visitors to Shanghai Disneyland become 'envy of the whole world' after park reopens at one-third capacity following coronavirus shutdown

A worker sterilises a bench at Shanghai Disneyland on Monday.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

The Walt Disney Company has reopened its biggest Asia resort after a four-month shutdown, as Shanghai's health authorities eased restrictions on public gatherings after getting the coronavirus outbreak in the megacity of 24 million people under control.

The first batch of 200 visitors became the "envy of the whole world" when they entered the park as soon as the gates opened at 9.30am on Monday, according to one person there.

Entry to the park was staggered and guests were allowed entry based on time slots specified on their tickets.

The tickets for Shanghai Disneyland, restricted to a third of its normal daily capacity of 80,000 visitors, sold out within minutes on Friday for 399 yuan (S$80) each, according to the company's website.

They were priced at 499 yuan each for weekends.

The reopening of the US$5.5 billion (S$7.8 billion) wonderland - the biggest of Disney's three resorts in Asia, which hosted about 11.8 million visitors in 2018 - is good news for the Burbank, California-based company.

The coronavirus pandemic helped lop off US$1.4 billion of its income, by shutting cinemas and theme parks around the world during the three months to March 31 versus a year earlier.

"The reduced capacity on reopening day enables visitors to better enjoy the attractions and facilities," said Jenny Kong, a Shanghai resident who secured a ticket through online booking last Friday.

"My mother and I decided to be part of the first batch of guests, putting aside concerns that the virus would spread among the crowd. There was fierce competition for the tickets."

Disney and the local authorities maintained tight control over the crowd on Monday, with constant reminders about wearing face masks and strictly observing social distancing guidelines.

The relatively sparse crowd meant visitors did not spend time queuing for the Tron ride, one of the park's more popular attractions.

All indoor activities, such as the Frozen musical show, are still suspended, while a parade at noon turned out to be a "simplified version", with only two carts showing up on the avenue. Still, the predominantly young visitors were unfazed.

"I feel like I am coming back home," said Michelle Wang, a diehard fan and a regular park visitor. "Over the past three months, I reminisced about it and kept watching videos showing my experience at the park."

Shanghai will be the first of Disney's 12 theme parks across half a dozen global resorts to reopen for business, as China declares victory in its fight against the pandemic, even as the outbreak continues to ravage economies in Europe and the Americas.

Disney shut the park in Shanghai and Hong Kong before the Lunar New Year holiday in January, as the viral outbreak intensified. It closed its theme park in Tokyo in February, and its parks across the US and Paris in March.

They remain closed until further notice.

A limited number of shops and restaurants in its Disney Springs mall outside its resort in Orlando, Florida, will reopen on May 20.

Covid-19 has sickened 83,740 people and claimed 4,633 lives in mainland China since it was first reported in January, in Wuhan, capital of the central Hubei province.

The improving health situation has given Chinese authorities the confidence to gradually roll back draconian quarantine, lockdown and stay-at-home orders that have been so effective in containing the spread of the pandemic.

Government offices and businesses alike are anxious to resume work to reboot a slumping economy, even if they are wary of a second or a third wave of infections.

Shanghai Disneyland's operations resumed with slight alterations to the usual routine.

While most of the park's rides and attractions, including all of its shops, cafes and restaurants, were open, several theatre shows and children's play areas remained closed.

To prevent large gatherings, parades and nighttime spectacles, including fireworks, have been put on hold for now. Visitors are prohibited from engaging in close interactions, including taking selfies with Mickey Mouse, Elsa or any of the theme park's iconic characters.

Shorter queues and signs urging social distancing met guests everywhere in Shanghai Disneyland on Monday. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

The crowds grew bigger with the entry of more ticket-holders later in the afternoon, but the wait for rides and attractions did not go up.

At Soaring over the Horizon, a simulated aerial amusement ride, guests spent half an hour queuing up compared with at least two hours before the coronavirus pandemic.

"I think this is the best time to have the best experience of the attractions, given the small crowds and Disney's intensified effort to improve sanitisation," said Sean Wang, a 45-year-old entrepreneur who had brought his family to the park.

He said the absence of night shows and fireworks was not a concern. "We can come back for these activities.

"We became the envy of the whole world today."

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.