Shanghai Disneyland reopens after three-month coronavirus closure

LAN Lianchao, Dan Martin
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Disney hopes the reopening of its park in Shanghai will help temper the financial hit from coronavirus

Disney hopes the reopening of its park in Shanghai will help temper the financial hit from coronavirus (AFP Photo/Hector RETAMAL)

Shanghai Disneyland reopened on Monday following a more than three-month coronavirus shutdown as China moves nearer to normality and Walt Disney Co. seeks to plug the flow of red ink caused by the pandemic.

The theme park in China's most populous city is the first of the entertainment conglomerate's six main Disney resorts around the world to reopen, but does so under the shadow of the coronavirus.

It welcomed a capped number of visitors who had to pre-book tickets, have their temperatures checked on arrival and show a government QR code designed to prove they are not a health risk.

On a warm and hazy morning, speakers on a recorded loop asked people to wear masks at all times and reminded them to obey social distancing, including in queues and on rides.

Staff held signs instructing "please maintain a proper social distance from other guests" and yellow lines and posters on the ground showed people where to stand when waiting.

Disney said there would be increased frequency of sanitisation and disinfection, and the park will limit or suspend performances that often include interaction between visitors and characters such as Mickey Mouse.

Despite the measures and persistent fear of new infections, tickets for the first day sold out within minutes after going on sale Friday, Chinese state media said.

"Though many areas are still closed we are very much looking forward to the first day of reopening and wondering what's the difference inside today compared to before," said a woman who gave the English name "Kitty" and was with her excited five-year-old daughter.

"We have stayed at home for around two months and got bored enough."

Andrew Bolstein, senior vice president of operations at the resort, said the "vast majority" of attractions and facilities were open and they will be "adding more and more as time goes on".

- 'Encouraging signs' -

Coronavirus emerged in the central city of Wuhan in December and later spread globally, forcing countries around the world to take restrictive prevention measures that have rocked the global economy.

But as the first virus-affected country, China also has a head start on returning to normal as the number of reported cases in the country has plummeted.

Business activity began resuming in March and last month major tourist sites around the country were reopened and middle and high schools started resuming classes.

Walt Disney Co. said last week that profit plunged 91 percent to $475 million in the first three months of the year and that it would suffer a $1.4 billion hit from the coronavirus in the current quarter.

The pandemic has dealt a massive blow to the company's theme parks and other operations.

Revenue at its "Parks, Experiences and Products" division fell 10 percent to $5.5 billion in the first three months of the year and the segment's operating income fell 58 percent, the company said.

Disney shuttered the Shanghai park in late January, followed by others in the United States, France, Japan and Hong Kong.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said last week that "we are seeing encouraging signs of a gradual return to some semblance of normalcy in China".

Disney has, meanwhile, delayed the release of more than a dozen major films as cinemas have closed.

Revenues from new streaming platform Disney+ have helped limit the damage, however, as home confinement has effectively provided an enormous captive audience.

Shanghai Disney reopened its shopping and entertainment Disneytown zone in March, plus a park and hotel in the same complex, but kept the main amusement park closed until now.

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