Halloween COVID scare forces Shanghai Disney to shut down as China escalates efforts to eradicate viruses

Health workers in hazmat suits are typically not among the characters featured at Shanghai Disneyland’s Halloween party.

That was until this year, when a single confirmed case sent the park and its adjacent shopping district, Disneytown, into a zipper Sunday night.

The extreme measure saw tens of thousands of visitors and staff forced to undergo coronavirus testing before being allowed to leave the park as police blocked the exits and secured the grounds.

In a video that has since gone viral on Chinese social media, crowds are shown queuing in front of makeshift test sites while health workers in full personal protective equipment (PPE) watch.

In the background, colorful fireworks light up the night sky over a history book castle.

Visitors gather to wait for the COVID-19 test at the Shanghai Disney Resort in Shanghai.
Visitors gather to wait for the COVID-19 test at the Shanghai Disney Resort in Shanghai. Credit: AW/AP

The surreal juxtaposition of an impromptu mass test drive and a Disney fireworks show is the latest example of how China’s stringent zero-COVID policies have permeated every corner of Chinese citizens’ lives.

As countries around the world gradually open up and learn to live with the coronavirus, China remains committed to completely eradicating COVID-19 from within its borders, using massive efforts and resources to eradicate even a single case.

In its public statement, Shanghai Disney did not offer detailed reasons for the closure, but only said it was to “cooperate with the pandemic investigation in other provinces and cities.”

But a local health commission in neighboring Jiangsu province said a woman who visited Shanghai Disney on Saturday tested positive for COVID-19.

The woman had taken a train to Shanghai from Jiangxi province on Friday.

Thousands of visitors received COVID-19 tests at the resort.
Thousands of visitors received COVID-19 tests at the resort. Credit: AW/AP
Disneyland employees gather to wait for their COVID-19 test.
Disneyland employees gather to wait for their COVID-19 test. Credit: AW/AP

During her return journey the next day, it turned out that she was a close contact in a confirmed case in Jiangxi and was taken by train to quarantine.

She tested positive on Sunday and had a fever and was diagnosed as a confirmed case, according to the Hangzhou City Council, where the woman got off.

As of Monday morning, 33,863 people who were in Shanghai Disneyland and Disneytown over the weekend had been tested and all results came back negative, according to the Shanghai government.

But state media said about 100,000 people had visited the park over the weekend, citing sources.

Both Disneyland and Disneytown will remain closed Monday and Tuesday “to comply with the COVID-19 prevention and control requirement,” the resort said in the statement.

Visitors were locked inside the resort.
Visitors were locked inside the resort. Credit: AW/AP

The subway station connected to Disney has also been closed so far.

While the park’s closure over a single case would likely be considered extreme by most people outside of China, many Chinese Internet users have praised the Shanghai government and Disney for what they see as a mild, targeted and effective response.

The tests were well organized and carried out quickly, and visitors were allowed to return home or to their hotels instead of being taken into central quarantine.

They are required to isolate themselves and undergo another COVID test 24 hours after leaving the park.

If this test is also negative, visitors will be asked to observe 12 days of health monitoring and take more tests – but they will not be limited to their homes or hotel rooms.

The requirements are actually quite lenient compared to some of the more stringent measures taken by other local authorities as they rush to curb a rapidly spreading COVID-19 outbreak across China.

Over the past two weeks, the country has registered more than 300 confirmed cases in 14 provinces and regions, and health officials warned Saturday that the situation was “serious and complicated.”

Red lights

Last week, two high-speed trains en route to Beijing were stopped midway through their travels when two crew members turned out to be close contacts to confirmed cases. Hundreds of passengers on board were taken away for centralized quarantine.

In Jiangxi Province, a county turned all traffic lights red to counter traffic after a single incident was reported on Saturday.

Motorists driving in red will be punished according to the traffic rules, the county’s traffic police said in a statement on Saturday.

The mandate was withdrawn Sunday after triggering an outcry online.

Epidemic prevention workers check passengers' health code at the exit of Yantai Railway Station in Yantai, eastern China's Shandong province.
Epidemic prevention workers check passengers’ health code at the exit of Yantai Railway Station in Yantai, eastern China’s Shandong province. Credit: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

In Inner Mongolia’s Ejin Banner, nearly 10,000 tourists were caught after the city imposed a lockdown on dozens of cases last month.

Authorities began sending them to their hometowns last week, but more than 300 tourists remained in the Ejin Banner as of Sunday, according to state media.

And in Beijing, some residents complained on social media that they were unable to return to the Chinese capital after a trip out of the city.

COVID nul

Beijing tightened access restrictions for domestic travelers last month and canceled flights from cities with known infections.

Last week, it also banned the entry of people who had visited sites with infections within the past 14 days – even if they are residents of Beijing who want to return home.

But on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, some said they were prevented from buying train or airline tickets to Beijing even though they had not visited places with infections or areas designated as medium or high risk.

The Chinese capital has always been a top priority in the country’s zero-COVID policy, and now it is on even higher alert as a series of politically important events are planned in the coming months.

Next week, members of the ruling Communist Party’s elite central committee will gather in the capital for their annual meeting, which paves the way for President Xi Jinping to become a third term in power at the party congress next fall.

By February, Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics and will be the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games.

As increasingly stringent restrictions bring life to Beijing and across China, Shanghai is fast becoming the nation’s envy of being the last stronghold of more reasonable and relatively mild COVID measures.

But how long it will have to show.

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