Shanghai Disneyland locks in more than 30,000 people for testing after COVID scare on Halloween night

Domestic News

Pandemic control authorities locked down Disney’s biggest amusement park in China and mass tested all staff and visitors. It may have been a horrible way to spend Halloween for the people stuck in line for a swab test instead of a rollercoaster ride, but the action received widespread support on Chinese social media.

Fascist Mickey Mouse, Disney: Shanghai Disneyland confronts COVID scare on Halloween night, stranding thousands for mass testing
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

Shanghai Disneyland was not “the happiest place on earth” on Halloween night for thousands of visitors who had to wait in line for hours to get tested for COVID-19 during an unexpected lockdown.

After a person who had tested positive for COVID-19 was found to have visited the site on Saturday, Shanghai Disneyland announced suddenly Sunday evening that in cooperation with “pandemic investigation in other provinces and cities,” it would temporarily suspend entry into the park and its adjacent shopping district, Disneytown, as well as stopping operations for some attractions inside the park.

“Outdoor performances will continue as scheduled,” the theme park said in a statement posted to Weibo at 6:05 p.m. local time on Sunday. “Guests who are inside the park are reminded to strictly comply with pandemic prevention measures, including wearing a mask and maintaining social distance at all times.”

Image from Weibo

As the partial lockdown went into effect, local healthcare workers rushed to the site to conduct a mass test of the visitors already inside. With an army of police officers blocking the park’s exits and securing the grounds, 33,863 “relevant personnel” present in the park — including both guests and employees — underwent mandatory nucleic acid testing before they were allowed to leave. 

According to a notice (in Chinese) published this morning by the Shanghai office for coronavirus prevention and control, none of the people connected to the possible outbreak tested positive for the coronavirus. Still, they were required to take a second test after 24 hours of self-isolation and complete a 12-day self-health monitoring. 

The park and Disneytown will remain closed on Monday and Tuesday in order to “follow the requirement of pandemic prevention and control,” the resort said in a statement today. “We apologize for the inconvenience and will provide a refund or exchange for all guests impacted during this period,” it stated, adding that a reopening date would be announced at a later time. 

Image from Weibo

The bizarre scenes prompted by the COVID scare, which involved hundreds of people in full medical hazmat suits showing up at the amusement park on what was supposed to be a fun Halloween night, were captured in a number of videos and photos taken by the park-goers. In a video (in Chinese) that has been making the rounds on Chinese social media, swarms of guests — many dressed up in Halloween costumes — are shown queuing up in front of makeshift testing sites as fireworks light up the sky over the park’s centerpiece, the Enchanted Storybook Castle. In another viral video (in Chinese), two health workers are seen performing an oral swab on a young child who had never taken a COVID test before.

While the swift lockdown and accompanying measures might seem draconian and authoritarian to people outside China, there was a groundswell of support and understanding for the response on Chinese social media. Many observers were in awe of the efficiency with which local officials and the park handled the emergency, saying that it was an impressive feat to mass-test nearly 34,000 people in just a few hours, and that it was necessary to do so for the sake of public health. Others praised the Shanghai government for its thoughtful policies, including giving pregnant women priority in queues for swabs and sending 220 special buses to take visitors home as the mass testing stretched until midnight.

Back in January 2020, Shanghai Disneyland was the first Disney park in the world to shut down as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country. Then in May, it became the first to open its gates again, but with COVID-19 safety protocols in place, like limited capacity and face mask requirements. 

Sunday’s impromptu mass-testing drive is the latest example of China’s zero-tolerance approach for coronavirus infections. While many countries around the world are gradually reopening international borders and learning to live with the virus, China remains committed to completely eradicating COVID-19 from the country, sticking to its playbook that requires closed borders, abrupt lockdowns, and repeated disruption of social and economic activity. In recent weeks, coronavirus fears heightened as a fresh outbreak emerged across the country, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 92 on Monday.