As Florida finally gets serious about coronavirus, Asian theme parks are starting to reopen

click to enlarge The cleanliest place on Earth? - Photo by Seth Kubersky
Photo by Seth Kubersky
The cleanliest place on Earth?
As the U.S. tourism economy grinds to a stop with weeks before any of it can begin to reopen, Asia is giving the industry some hope with theme parks and other tourist attractions slowly beginning to reopen. Shanghai Disneyland closed on January 25, joined the next day by the Hong Kong park. A month later, the Tokyo resort shut down. Now all three are slowly reopening, as are numerous other tourist attractions and businesses throughout China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

The roughly eight-week closure in China and Hong Kong is in line with what is expected stateside, with many tourist attractions here now looking to reopen sometime in May at the earliest. Of course, unlike in Asia where strict shelter-in-place style warnings were nearly universally followed, some states, most notably Florida and Texas, have remained hesitant to issue similar warnings. Even after images of crowded beaches and restaurants went viral around the world, Florida officials still seemed reluctant to acknowledge the actual threat of coronavirus.

As Walt Disney World closed due to the global pandemic, resort president Josh D'Amaro gathered with guests, shaking hands and posing for pictures. On social media #ShutDownFlorida began trending as users pleaded with businesses and state officials to stop the pandemic by following protocols similar to what other states have done. Now with multiple deaths and fevers trending well above the national average, Florida faces an uncertain future that may prolong its closures.

That being said, theme parks across the nation can look to the ones in Asia to understand what it will take to successfully reopen.

At Shanghai Disneyland, the shopping district, hotel, and nature park have reopened, but the main theme park is still not operating. Other parks in China are slowly reopening. All of them, like most businesses in China and Japan, require temperature checks at the entrance. Those with fevers are barred from entering and must report to "fever centers," where they're tested to see if they have coronavirus. This stringent and somewhat invasive check has allowed businesses to open sooner than otherwise possible while helping keep patrons safe.

Kelly Ryner, the president of the Asian offices for themed entertainment company Thinkwell Group, offered some hope on her personal Facebook account where she explained what she has been encountering in Beijing.
"March 16, 2020

Greetings from Beijing! I know, I'm lousy about keeping up on facebook and I haven't opened it since Christmas, but as I see all of the news breaking in the U.S., I couldn't help but want to jump in and let all of our friends know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We've been on "government lockdown" since the last week of January now and the spread of COVID-19 is barely a trickle proving it does work.

In the last week of January we were in denial, couldn't believe this was happening as all of the theme parks and movie theatres and schools closed until further notice by government mandate overnight. Lots of talk about overreactions because this sounded like it was just another strain of the flu.

The first week of February was Fear and Depression about what this meant for the economy compounded by all of the flights getting canceled and wondering if we had done the right thing staying here. Tracking down our employees, making sure they were safe and self quarantining as instructed by the government and getting their computers delivered so that we could all start working from home.

Somewhere in the second week of February came Acceptance. Everyone was following the rules, and I was doing my research to understand the facts as being delivered by the medical community rather than journalists. A tremendous help to my peace of mind.

We were assured that grocery stores would operate as normal, so nobody panicked hoarding goods and it gave us an excuse to get out of the apartment every 3 days to do a little food shopping.

For those that don't love to cook, restaurants kept cooking and kept the delivery guys busy. Delivery happens a lot faster with no traffic! Everyone's temperature is taken looking for fevers as they come in and out of their communities, any shops, cafes or eateries. Starbucks closed a huge percentage of their shops for a few weeks, but they've started opening back up again for take-out.

In these last few weeks, traffic is starting to pick up as businesses start reopening. It was eerie the many weeks of silence. Peaceful at the same time.

Spring has sprung so we grabbed a little sunshine yesterday near the Forbidden City at a place that would normally be packed shoulder to shoulder with local tourists and practically had the place to ourselves. We took the opportunity to drop our masks for a bit and snagged a photo.

All I can say is, listen to the scientists, don't panic, follow the rules, and try to enjoy a quieter life for just a bit. It's a wonderful time to do all those little things around the house you never have time to do. It will be a few weeks. We are starting week eight now and on our way back into the office . . . .

Wishing you all love and good health!"

After the post, which has now been shared nearly 10,000 times and has over 650 comments, went viral, Ryner added a small update explaining what Thinkwell and China as a whole were doing to ensure all were safe.

"Finding out that sharing my personal experience publicly has brought so many people comfort around the world has been very humbling. The messages I've received both in the comments below and via private message have reminded me how small this world is and I am thankful to have provided some help in this small way.

For those wanting an update of good news: the most wonderful news I witnessed this week was the thousands of medical aid workers that had gone to Wuhan to help at the epicenter of the crisis all got to go home this week. I have so much respect for people that put their lives on the line to help everyone else. I am forever in awe of first responders, those who run towards a crisis to help and those that continue the fight from hospitals and aid stations around the world. Basically, every profession serving our communities to keep us safe. I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

My personal bubble of good news pales in comparison - but it was really fun returning to the office this week. We are still taking a lot of extreme precautions here, our temperatures are checked at every entry into any building, whether it is our office building, Starbucks or the grocery store. There is Q.R. code & app that helps log us in at many venues so that if someone were to show a fever not only would they be required to go to a "fever center" to be tested (so that they don't go into a hospital or doctor's office) if they do have the virus, anyone that might have come into contact with them can be reached for testing.

We are still wearing masks if we are in meeting rooms around conference tables or relatively close to others. Not the N95 ones that the doctors need so desperately around the world right now, but the light-weight ones that will catch the droplets from your mouth when you are speaking or your nose when you are caught by surprise with sneeze now that the flowers are blooming. Just a precaution we are told to keep while the city tries to reopen everywhere. Restaurants a limping along allowed only 15 people inside at a time to eat, but with offices opening up more and more lunch deliveries are being made around the city.

The only new cases of the virus in the last two weeks in Beijing and in the rest of the country over the last few days are from people flying into China from other countries. Very stringent quarantine rules now apply to anyone arriving on international flights. It's the Hammer and Dance of tackling a pandemic I've come to learn today.

Being back together again, laughing and collaborating in the same space felt great. These little precautions are a small price to pay to maintain the control of the pandemic. I expect to see even more traffic on the streets next week and even more again the week after as the city continues to come back alive. At the same time, my heart aches for what I've been witnessing of the rest of the world these last two weeks.

On the topic of COVID-19 itself - I've been watching Dr. John Campbell's videos on YouTube since January 23 when I was trying to get my head wrapped around why such drastic measures were being taken for a new strain of Corona Virus, back before it even had the name of COVID-19. It helped me a lot seeing that information was being shared from China within the medical community and it was being studied to help the rest of the world as the scientists back then were talking about this becoming a pandemic. The game-changer is that people can spread the virus for weeks before showing any symptoms. Dr. Campbell does an amazing job of helping explain the analysis. For those that are comforted by facts and want to see the progression of information that was being discussed within the medical community, I highly recommend you check out his website and go through his January and February video logs.

Hang in there everyone. While it will take a couple months to start feeling safe again (assuming everyone does their part), and it will take longer still before we can function the same way we used to, I'm confident we will get there.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out to everyone losing a life or a loved one and the medical community faced with challenges we never expected to see in our lifetime. The rest of us are lucky indeed.

Virtual hugs to all! -K"

The posts give details that are similar to what is happening in Japan.

At the Dutch-themed resort Huis Ten Bosch in the Nagasaki Prefecture, guests must wear masks to the resort where only outdoor attractions are currently in operation. At LEGOLAND Japan, employees all wear masks, but guests are not required to. Both parks, like many other attractions in Japan, require all guests to have temperature checks before being admitted into the park. At LEGOLAND, select rides with "confined spaces" will be closed, as will all shows.
Social distancing style seating now in use at Haiching Ocean Park in Shanghai - Image via gourmetdyy | Twitter
Image via gourmetdyy | Twitter
Social distancing style seating now in use at Haiching Ocean Park in Shanghai
Back in China, some parks are operating indoor attractions but at a lower capacity to allow for more relaxed social distancing. In Shanghai at Haiching Ocean Park, both indoor and outdoor attractions are running. Still, the park has committed to halving its daily capacity, along with only having indoor attractions operate at 30% capacity.

Body temperature checkpoints at the entrance of Shanghai Disneyland's shopping district. - Image via gourmetddy | Twitter
Image via gourmetddy | Twitter
Body temperature checkpoints at the entrance of Shanghai Disneyland's shopping district.
The temperature checks are already happening at some business in the U.S., with some grocery stores in the Atlanta region requiring them and Wynn resorts announcing a similar move before Nevada's governor had all casinos in state close. In a press release announcing several safety protocols the company was rolling out to its resorts, CEO Matt Maddox announced, "we will be screening for temperature using non-invasive thermal cameras at all our entrances." Similar checks are now required for visitors at some federal buildings, most notably the White House and certain federal courthouses.

Like many retail and restaurant outlets in North America, Asian attractions are also currently only accepting cashless payments, such as mobile or "tap and pay."

As thousands of attractions reopen in China and Japan, there is still plenty of hesitation about returning to them. In China, some local governments have turned to coupons and other voucher programs to encourage visitors to spend money at local attractions.

For now, both China and Japan are relying on domestic business as international travelers are virtually all travel into the countries that have been for all intents and purposes banned indefinitely.

While temperature checks, cashless payments, masks, and other procedures might be a bit of an inconvenience for many Americans, who are just now in their first or second week of social distancing, such steps might be welcomed if it means some form of normalcy can return. With weeks still to go before any such relief is available for America, by then, we will know if the protocols were successful in Asia, which may, in turn, help tourist attractions here open even faster.

Please follow CDC guidelines and Orange County advisories to stay safe, and please support this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Central Florida. Please consider making a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit helps.


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