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Shanghai Disneyland reopens with precautions - what's it mean for U.S. parks?

By Matthew Jackson
Shanghai Disneyland Castle

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact daily life around the world, many attractions that might draw large crowds remain closed, but there are glimmers of reopening hope. After months of closure, Shanghai Disneyland opened its gates to guests again on Monday, as the world watched for signs of what theme park life, and entertainment in general, might look like for the forseeable future. 

The $5 billion Chinese park is the first attraction in the Disney theme park empire to reopen after COVID-19-driven closures, and guests who arrived for the first day back were greeted with a long list of new precautions and procedues. Reuters reports the park is conducting temperature screenings, making masks mandatory, and enforcing social distancing through regular audio announcements and markers on the ground to make sure people stand and sit far apart from each other. To further enforce distancing, the park was reportedly only operating at 20 percent capacity, which would allow about 16,000 people per day to enter. Guests entering the park also had to show Disney cast members a green "health code" update on their phones in order to be allowed in. 

Shanghai Disneyland Lines

Pandemic precautions also mean a shorter list of things to do in the park for guests. While many rides remain opened — with strict social distancing enforced for seating — and familiar favorite characters still roamed the park (though guests were not allowed to hug them), things like interactive play areas for children and live indoor performances were closed. Also missing from the traditional Disney experience: Parades and fireworks shows to close the park. Guests got a light projection show Monday night in Shanghai instead.

While Reuters reports that the opening days of Shanghai Disneyland's return have already sold out, the reopening comes amid fears that a second wave of the virus could still impact China, a fear underlined by a small rise in new cases on the mainland over the weekend. In the United States, Disney's return is slower as gradual reopenings of various businesses begin in many states.

The Disney Springs dining and shopping center in Orlando is scheduled to begin a "phased" reopening through certain "third party" businesses on May 20, while Disney World itself remains closed for the the time being. Orlando news outlets reported Monday that the Walt Disney World resort is taking reservations for guests in July, but Disney Parks has not yet given an official reopening date. In an interview with CNBC's Squawk Alley Monday morning, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek reaffirmed that the company is still in a holding pattern in terms of U.S. park reopenings, but said he's "encouraged" by the Shanghai response so far.

He also noted that, though it will be "trying" for guests in the heat of summer, all guests and cast members in U.S. parks will be required to wear masks when they finally reopen.

As of Monday morning, there are more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and nearly 80,000 deaths, according to the New York Times.