Disney parks almost never close, but the company is taking unprecedented steps to address coronavirus

Disney parks have only ever closed ahead of weather-related issues, or in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

click to enlarge Disney parks almost never close, but the company is taking unprecedented steps to address coronavirus
Photo via Adobe Images

As the Wuhan coronavirus continues to spread, Disney joined other theme park operators in China in the unprecedented move of closing both Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland until further notice, in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.

This past weekend was the Lunar New Year, a holiday in China that sees hundreds of millions of travelers, but plans were put on hold, as the nation struggles to address the easily-spread virus, which has killed dozens.

Disney parks almost never close, but the company is taking unprecedented steps to address coronavirus
Image via Shanghai Disneyland

In Shanghai, Disney has shut down the entire resort, including the theme park, both hotels and Disneytown, its shopping village. In Hong Kong, the closure so far only includes the theme park itself.

The move by Disney is entirely unprecedented, with the only comparisons being the handful of times Disney parks have closed ahead of weather-related issues, or when they closed in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks, Disney closed their Florida parks, while the parks in California never opened for the day. Both resorts kept their hotels open and both saw their theme parks open by the next morning.

Unlike those situations, this time, the entire Shanghai resort is closed until further notice with no details on when it may reopen. As of now, those details all seem to be controlled by the government, which has also closed airports, rail stations, and other areas where large groups of people tend to gather, as part of a lockdown that now affects more than 50 million people.

Outside China, tourism groups are struggling to respond to growing concerns adequately. In Las Vegas, Chinese acrobats who recently returned from China were removed indefinitely from their Cirque du Soleil show. So far, Cirque du Soleil doesn’t seem to have removed any other Chinese performers from their shows. The upcoming show in Orlando, set to open in March, is still scheduled to open on time.

Vegas news site VitalVegas, which shares insider knowledge of casino operations, reports that dealers at MGM Resorts are in negotiations regarding their ability to wear masks while on the job. Cast members at Tokyo Disney Resort are now allowed to wear flu masks while on the job.

Signs informing guests about the virus and requesting that they sanitize their hands regularly were also recently rolled out the Japanese resort. No such cast member accommodations or signage have been posted at the U.S. or European parks. Universal Orlando reached out to team members earlier this week, confirming they were in regular contact with the health department.

Reports on social media tell of cast members at Hong Kong Disneyland being required to report to work, despite a lack of anti-viral face masks. Despite these reports, Disney reassured Orlando Weekly that the company was providing for cast members. On background, one executive explained:

"Like other tourist destinations in the region, we have temporarily closed Hong Kong Disneyland park and much of Shanghai Disney Resort as a precautionary measure. We are providing Cast with resources, and in addition to our already rigorous cleaning procedures, continue to implement appropriate preventative measures. We are also working with government and health agencies to determine when we can announce reopening."

Disney is usually quick to react to health concerns. In 2016, when Zika concerns spread to the United States, Disney World began offering free mosquito repellent spray and altered some outdoor entertainment offerings. A decade ago, as swine flu fears spread around the world, Disney added extra hand sanitizer stations and handed out informational pamphlets encouraging guests to wash their hands regularly. In both of those situations, the parks remained open. So far, no change in operations have begun at any theme parks in the U.S., despite multiple confirmed cases, including one in the same county as Disneyland. Another case was first reported at LAX, the primary airport for travelers to the region that includes the Disneyland resort.

With more than 16 percent of the company's theme parks now closed indefinitely, it's hard to predict what impact it will have on the company's bottom line. The Lunar New Year is one of the busiest seasons of the year for tourism in Asia, so the closures couldn’t have come at a worse time.

While concern and cases continue to grow, the World Health Organization has yet to declare a public health emergency of international concern.As for Disney at this time, no similar closures are expected at any other Disney resorts. 

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